Breathe better: tips for managing seasonal asthma

With kids back in school and cooler temperatures on the way, the fall season also brings pollen and viruses that can cause respiratory problems for even the healthiest people. Those with seasonal asthma may face more serious complications, so experts say it’s important to watch for triggers, take precautions, and make sure your condition is under control.

The information below includes some tips for managing seasonal asthma.

The basics

Respiratory conditions caused by allergies or viruses can trigger an asthma exacerbation, also known as an asthma attack or flareup. Jennifer Trevor, M.D., a pulmonologist with the UAB Asthma Clinic, said people with asthma should talk to their doctor about baseline control.

“Achieving and maintaining baseline control is your main defense against seasonal exacerbations,” Dr. Trevor said. “Talking with your doctor is how you stay on top of that and how you make sure you are on the correct medication for your degree of disease. You should also make certain that you are using it as prescribed. Those are the fundamentals. Beyond that, if you know you are going to be in an environment where you may encounter allergen triggers, having your rescue medicine on hand is essential.”

Dr. Trevor said online tools are available to help you determine how well your asthma is controlled. Knowing if your asthma is controlled, or not, is the best way to know when to talk to your doctor. Click here for an online asthma control test.

It’s also important to have a detailed plan for managing your condition. An asthma action plan is a written, personalized worksheet that has guidelines for managing your disease when you have trouble. It also provides guidance on when to call your health care provider and when to go to the emergency room. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers an online action plan. Click here to learn about the CDC’s asthma action plan.

Precautions and prevention

  • One of the most effective and easiest ways to defend against seasonal allergies is to use nasal steroids and nasal antihistamines. These medications are inexpensive, highly effective, and available over the counter or by prescription.
  • Think twice before going on a hayride, entering a barn or stable where there is hay, raking leaves, or hiking in areas where ragweed is prominent. If you do any of those things, wear a mask and have your inhaler handy.
  • Know your other triggers. In some cases, additional allergy tests might show that previously unknown triggers are a problem.
  • Pay attention to weather reports to stay informed on pollen counts, air quality, and wildfire conditions.
  • Avoid grill smoke, campfires, bonfires, and other sources of smoke at outdoor gatherings. Stay indoors, if possible, when there are wildfires or controlled burning in your area, or if construction crews are burning debris from new developments.
  • During cold weather, stay as warm as possible by wearing a scarf or facemask to cover your nose and mouth.
  • If pollen triggers your asthma, close the windows in your home and turn on the air conditioning when pollen levels peak. After exposure to extreme pollen, consider washing your hair before going to bed.

Cold and flu in the classroom

Asthma flareups in children peak during early fall, in the weeks after most children have returned to school. More children are hospitalized for asthma in September than at any other time.

Apart from viruses, potential triggers for some may be chalk dust, airborne irritants from plaster/sheetrock or ventilation ducts, strong fragrances on classmates or teachers, athletic exercise and playground activities, and cleaning agents used by the janitorial staff. School renovations create dust, along with paint or varnish fumes. Exhaust fumes from carpool lines or school buses may be a trigger. However, recent evidence suggests that viral triggers remain the leading cause.

“We learned during COVID that viral triggers play a larger role in exacerbating asthma than we previously thought,” Dr. Trevor said. “So, while we do see a spike in the fall caused by pollen, most exacerbations likely result from exposure to viruses that are spread in the classroom and then spread to parents, friends, and neighbors. In the case of viruses, practicing good hand hygiene and using a mask when you are sick can prevent introducing problems for yourself or others with asthma.”

The UAB Medicine Asthma Clinic provides advanced treatments at UAB Medicine’s main campus and at our convenient neighborhood clinics in Hoover and Gardendale. Click here to learn more.

Sources: American Lung Association, National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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