Treating seasonal asthma and allergies
Treating seasonal asthma and allergies
As the seasons change, so do our needs when it comes to healthcare. This article has been designed to equip you with everything you could possibly need to combat your seasonal allergies and manage your asthma.
So, whether you’re the resident red-eyed, elephant-like sneezer in the office, just now developing adult-onset asthma or simply lending a sympathetic ear to your allergy-plagued loved one – Doctors on Demand is here to help!
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a respiratory condition where the airways (the breathing tubes carrying air into our lungs) periodically narrow, making it harder for people to breathe. Around 2.7 million people in Australia have asthma – that’s one in nine. Anyone can develop asthma at any age, but it’s more common in families with a history of asthma and allergies.
What makes asthma a bit of a luck-of-the-draw condition is there is no exact cause, and it can come and go at any point in your life.
If you have asthma, you don’t necessarily have allergies. Asthma can be allergic (triggered by grass pollen or other allergy factors) or non-allergic (triggered by stress, cold or dry air and smoke to name a few).
Famous asthmatics include David Beckham, Jessica Alba, Eminem, Harry Styles, Pink, Martin Scorcese, Coolio, Lindsay Lohan, Billy Joel and even Beethoven and JFK.
How do I know if I have asthma?
While an asthma diagnosis can only be confirmed by a doctor, symptoms to look out for are:
- • Wheezing (a high-pitched sound coming from the chest during breathing – this is an obvious symptom to both patient and anyone nearby)
- • Shortness of breath
- • Tightness in the chest
- • Coughing
Internally, thin layers of muscle within airway walls tighten, making airways narrow and breathing difficult. This is exacerbated by the lining of the airways becoming swollen and inflamed and the airways can even by filled with mucus. These events can occur simultaneously.
What can bring on asthma?
Adults can develop asthma from indoor air pollution like inhaling fumes and dust – easily circulated through air-conditioning vents in the workplace. In children, their risk comes from a variety of factors: mothers smoking while pregnant, being in the presence of smokers, air pollution, mouldy housing and being born premature or at a low birth weight.
What is an asthma flare-up or attack…and what can I do about it?
An asthma flare-up or attack generally refers to either an instant or gradual appearance of asthma symptoms. Without proper treatment, attacks can deteriorate to a point requiring urgent medical care or admission into hospital. While this sounds alarming, effective asthma management can reduce the risk of a severe flare-up.
If you or a loved one is experiencing asthma symptoms, it’s best to see a doctor to receive treatment as soon as possible. Our doctors are available either through a scheduled video appointment or on-demand – meaning you can reach us as soon as symptoms present.
After receiving an asthma diagnosis, the patient will be provided with an asthma action plan which includes a list of medication and dosages, instructions for if symptoms worsen, when extra doses should be administered and what to do during a severe attack.
The Asthma Action Plan lists medications that are asthma preventers and relievers. As the names suggest, preventers are medications that reduce the risk of asthma attacks and relievers are those in-case-of-emergency inhalers we often associate with asthma.
Most preventers contain inhaled corticosteroids – a medication that reduces inflammation in the lungs. Preventers work to reduce the risk of severe asthma attacks and are usually prescribed in a low dose. Some asthma patients are treated with preventers and relievers, but others can also be treated with preventers containing a long-acting reliever known as a combination inhaler.
Relievers are fast-acting medications that reduce asthma symptoms dramatically by relaxing the muscles around the airway walls. This medication should be kept on-hand for ease-of-access but it’s important to note relievers don’t do well in hot cars.
Regular check-ups with a doctor are essential for asthma patients. This should be every 6-12 months regardless of your symptoms, immediately after a flare-up or attack and 1-3 months after adjusting medication or beginning preventer treatment. For best asthma management, keep track of your or your child’s symptoms throughout the day, whether they change or worsen and how effective the reliever was if required.
If pregnant, proper asthma management and more frequent doctor check-ups are critical.
Asthma and allergies are closely linked because they can be triggered by allergy factors. You may be familiar with thunderstorm asthma, where people with allergies or hay fever experience severe attacks immediately before a thunderstorm due to a high grass pollen count. People who struggle with allergies are advised to avoid the outdoors before and during thunderstorms when wind gusts are strong.
Allergic rhinitis (or hay fever) refers to allergy symptoms triggered by a high pollen count during certain times of the year. Almost one in five Australians experience hay fever which makes the inside of the nose irritated, swollen and inflamed. Symptoms include:
- • Itchy, runny or blocked nose
- • Itchy or watery eyes
- • Sneezing
- • Always feeling like you have a head cold
- • Frequent sore throats
- • Hoarse voice
- • Breathing through the mouth
- • Snoring
- • Facial pain or pressure
- • Frequent headaches
- • Repeatedly getting middle ear infections
- • Constantly coughing to clear the throat or soon after lying down to sleep
- • Sleeping badly or being tired during the day
Receiving a diagnosis could involve participating in an allergy test, having a physical examination, trialling a nasal spray or being referred to an allergy specialist or ear, nose and throat surgeon.
One of the more effective defences against hay fever is a corticosteroid nasal spray which reduces inflammation in the lining of the nose and reduces symptoms. These sprays are available with and without prescription, but your doctor will advise you of your best course of action.
These sprays provide quick relief from allergy symptoms and can be used in conjunction with corticosteroid sprays.
These tablets work well fighting itching and sneezing but are less effective for clearing a blocked or runny nose. People may take these during high pollen count days or in anticipation of being around known allergens.
Decongestants work to clear blocked or runny noses and should not be used for more than a few days at a time.
What can I do to reduce my symptoms?
Asthma and allergy symptoms can be reduced by eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding smoking. Mental health can also be a factor in triggering asthma and allergies but these conditions themselves can impact mental health. If you or someone you know appears to be struggling mentally, this should be raised with a doctor.
Side effects and in case of emergency
During an asthma or allergy consultation with a doctor, they will discuss potential side effects of your medication. One way to mitigate side effects is by using a spacer attached to the puffer of a preventer. People using preventers can also rinse their mouths with water after inhaling their medication, but low doses should not be problematic. Side effects to look for in children include nightmares, sleep problems, feeling sad and irritability/tantrums. If you notice a change in behaviour, it is best to make an appointment with a doctor.
While asthma and allergy patients are responsible for properly managing their symptoms, severe attacks can happen with little warning. If you observe the following symptoms, call an ambulance:
- • Severe breathing problems
- • Rapidly worsening symptoms
- • Reliever not taking effect
- • Difficulty speaking sentences
- • Blue lips
With Doctors on Demand, you can address your asthma and allergies on your terms. Our doctors are available for both scheduled and on-demand consultations so you can seek guidance or treatment as needed. We can provide you with referrals to specialists and access to medication. So wherever you land on your asthma or allergy journey, Doctors on Demand are here to help.