The Reliance GP Blog

Asthma & Allergies – As spring peaks, so do allergens
Missy Tysoe September 12, 2016

Asthma & Allergies – As spring peaks, so do allergens

The beginning of spring welcomes warmer weather, but for many asthma sufferers it can also bring seasonal triggers associated with asthma attacks and hayfever. While the two are very different – patients who suffer from asthma are more likely to suffer from allergies. Here, we answer some common questions asked by our patients..

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What is Asthma?

Asthma is a disease that restricts the airways – the breathing tubes that carry air into our lungs.  Asthma is a disease that effects the airways – the breathing tubes that carry air into our lungs. Airways are sensitive most of the time but for people with asthma, the muscles can constrict or become inflamed, making it difficult to breathe. Symptoms include; wheezing – a continuous, high-pitched sound coming from the chest while breathing, coughing, tightness in the chest, and shortness of breath.

Asthma Quick Facts

  • Over 2 million Australians have asthma – that means around 1 in 10 people suffer asthma
  • Asthma and allergies are closely linked. Asthma is more common in people with allergies.
  • Adults of any age can develop asthma, even if they did not have asthma as a child.
  • Some people have asthma during childhood, but later have very few or no symptoms as adults.
  • Many preschool children who wheeze do not have asthma by primary school age.
  • Indoor and outdoor pollution (including moulds, gases, chemicals, particles and cigarette smoke) can increase the risk of developing asthma.
  • Athletes can develop asthma after very intensive training over several years, especially while breathing air that is polluted, cold or dry.

What is Hayfever? How is it different to the flu?

Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) is an allergic response to triggers such as pollen, dust, pets and other allergens. The body responds by producing histamines, resulting in cold and flu-like signs and symptoms, such as a runny nose, itchy eyes, congestion, sneezing and sinus pressure and headaches from the inflammation of sinus membranes. In prolonged cases, Hayfever can lead to middle ear infections.

However, unlike a cold, hay fever isn’t caused by a virus, it is not contagious and is remedied with different medication or treatment. You can usually tell the difference by the colour of your mucus – hayfever mucous is generally clear whereas flu mucus can be yellow or green and signals an infection. Hayfever is usually an immediate reaction, wheras a flu will take 3 or more days to develop.

Why does Spring trigger asthma?

Pollen: For asthma and allergy sufferers, the onset of spring brings allergens – the biggest one being pollen. Pollen is a potent allergen found in plants that can travel through the air and inflame airways – triggering asthma attacks and hay-fever.

Pet Dander: As pets shed their winter coats this can leave pet dander (shed skin, feathers of fur) which can trigger asthma and allergies. This can also create more dust – another major trigger of asthma attacks or hayfever.

Dust: Dust mites may increase from dander from pets can occur year-round (perennial). Symptoms to indoor allergens might worsen in winter, when houses are closed up.

Fungi: Spoors from indoor and outdoor fungi and molds

Weather: The change in weather and higher humidity is the main reason for more pollen in the air, but it can also mean we are outdoors more and so more exposed to outdoor allergens. At the warmer end of spring we may start getting thunderstorms – the gusty winds that accompany thunderstorms stir up mold and fungal spores, and pollen.

Prevention and Treatment:

Nasal sprays, decongestants and antihistamines can reduce the symptoms of hayfever. Ventolin and inhalers are used to treat asthma, but in both cases, it is important to see your Doctor before using medication as you will need to ensure it is not a misdiagnoses of the flu, asthma, allergies or an underlying intolerance to something in your diet or lifestyle.

Here are some steps you can take to reduce the triggers:

  1. Try to stay indoors whenever the pollen count is very high. The counts usually peak in the mornings and in wind. Some weather forecasts will indicate the pollen count for the day.
  2. Clean the air filters in your home often. Also, clean bookshelves, vents, and other places where pollen or dust can collect. Those who are prone to attacks should vacuum around twice a week in peak seasons.
  3. Wash your hairafter going outside, as allergen can collect there.
  4. Brush you pets regularly (or have a groomer brush them) so they do not build up shedding skin or fur.
  5. Household items like air purifiers and damp-rid can assist in keeping airborne triggers at bay.
  6. Additional triggers include: some aspirin medications, some blood pressure medications, cigarette smoke, and crying. In some cases asthma may be triggered by vigorous exercise, but can be avoided by warming up.

An asthma flare-up can become serious if not treated properly, even in someone whose asthma is usually mild or well controlled. A severe flare-up needs urgent treatment by a doctor or hospital emergency department.

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms please see a doctor 43 041 333.

Sources: The mayo clinic organisation, Asthma foundation

Author: Melissa Tysoe | Stakeholder Engagement & Marketing Officer | Reliance Health

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