May 17, 2017: Springtime allergies are more than a nuisance for people with asthma—they can cause serious breathing problems if they are not properly treated. Lourdes de Asis, Section Chief of Allergy and Immunology at Montefiore Nyack Hospital, advises people with asthma who suffer from seasonal allergies to limit exposure to pollen, and work with their doctor to find the best treatment for manage their symptoms.
In people who are allergic to pollen, the body’s immune system mistakes pollen as an invader, and reacts releasing chemicals that can lead to allergy symptoms such as nasal congestion, runny nose, itchy eyes or skin reactions. For some people, this same reaction also affects the lungs and airways and leads to asthma symptoms.
Dr. de Asis notes that 40% of people with seasonal allergies also have asthma, and up to 80% of people with asthma also have nasal symptoms. “Sinusitis is also a big contributor to asthma flare-ups, and since people with allergies are more prone to sinus infections, it’s a double-whammy,” she says.
Treating Allergies and Asthma
There is currently only one medication, Singulair (montelukast), which is prescribed to treat both asthma and allergies. Dr. de Asis says the medication is only effective for people with mild asthma and allergies. For people with more severe asthma and/or allergies, doctors usually prescribe inhaled steroids for asthma, and antihistamines and nasal steroids for allergies. Dr. de Asis sometimes prescribes Singulair as an added treatment for people with asthma and allergies to allow them to cut down on their dose of steroids.
People with more severe allergies should talk to their doctor about the possibility of receiving allergy shots, or immunotherapy, Dr. de Asis advises. Allergy shots gradually reduce the immune system’s response to certain allergy triggers. Immunotherapy involves getting regular injections of a tiny amount of the allergens that trigger symptoms.
Parents of children with severe allergies should consider immunotherapy if their doctor recommends it, because it may reduce the chance they will develop asthma, she says. “Patients with allergies are three times more likely to develop asthma compared with those who don’t develop allergies,” she says. “Some studies suggest taking allergy shots may prevent developing asthma later on.”
How to Avoid Pollen
While it is impossible to completely avoid pollen, you can take steps to minimize your contact:
- Try to avoid playing or exercising outside in the morning, when pollen counts are highest. You can easily keep track of pollen counts with a phone app.
- When pollen counts are high, keep the windows to your home and car closed, and use the air conditioner to filter the air.
- Take a shower before you go to bed so you’re not surrounded by pollen on your pillow.
- If you have a dog, wipe down his coat before he comes inside, so he doesn’t track pollen into the house.
“There are many good treatments available for people with asthma and allergies, so no one has to suffer,” Dr. de Asis says. “If you work with your doctor and pay attention to pollen levels, you can still enjoy all the activities you usually take part in the rest of the year.”