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Spring Survival Guide for Asthma

Spring is in the air. Unfortunately, so are the many tree and grass pollens that cause seasonal allergies. This can be bad news if these tiny particles cause your asthma to flare up. But the change in seasons doesn't mean that you have to hibernate until winter. While you may not be able to avoid your triggers completely, there are many ways to help limit your exposure and reduce your asthma symptoms. 

Find your triggers

If you have asthma, you know how important it is to recognize and avoid your triggers. So if you start coughing and wheezing at the first signs of spring, you may want to visit your allergist to determine which springtime culprits are causing your symptoms. He or she can determine what is causing your reaction and work with you to create a plan to control your exposure to these triggers. Your allergist or health care provider may also prescribe medicine to help with your symptoms.

Pesky pollens, mischievous molds

For many allergy sufferers, pollen and mold are the main problems. If you are allergic to pollen or mold, you may notice that your asthma is worse on days that are hot, dry, and windy. Your symptoms may lessen when it is rainy and windless, because the air is not so heavy with pollen and mold on these days. Extreme temperatures (hot and cold) can also trigger symptoms of asthma. 

You can check the pollen count in your area by logging on to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology's website. The website is updated daily during pollen season and lists the active pollens in your area. You can use this information to help plan your outside activities.

Here are some other tips for avoiding mold and pollen when counts are high:

  • Close your windows at night to keep pollen and mold from coming in.

  • Use an air conditioner, rather than fans, to cool your house.

  • Keep your car windows rolled up, and set your air conditioner to recirculate.

  • Try to stay inside between 5 and 10 a.m. This is when pollen counts are generally the highest.

  • Don't hang clothes or sheets outside to dry.

  • Ask someone else to mow the lawn and rake leaves. These activities stir up allergens. If you have to do these things yourself, wear a mask.

  • Take your vacation somewhere with less pollen, such as the beach.

  • Shower and change your clothes after spending time outside. This will help remove any pollen or mold that is on your clothing, hair, and skin.

  • Take your medicine as directed. Don't take any extra unless prescribed by your health care provider.

  • When choosing trees or plants to add to your yard, try to find the kinds to which you are not allergic.

  • Choose grasses for your lawn that don't cause allergies, or use other ground covers, such as Irish moss or dichondra.

Avoid air pollution

Air pollution is another trigger that can cause asthma to flare up. While some air pollution exists all year, you may notice it more in the spring if you spend more time outdoors.

The two types of air pollutants that affect asthma are ozone and particle pollution. Ozone, found in smog, is usually worse in the summer on hot afternoons and evenings. Particle pollution, found in smoke, haze, and dust, is present year-round. If the air is polluted, you may find it harder to breathe when you are active outside. Air pollution can also make you more sensitive to other triggers, so you may notice asthma symptoms the day after you've been breathing polluted air.

Sometimes it's obvious when the air is polluted, such as on a hazy or smoggy day, but often it's not. If you are sensitive to air pollution, you may want to check on the air quality before you plan any outside activities. You can usually find reports about the air quality in your area in local newspapers or on TV or radio stations. These reports also are available on the Environmental Protection Agency's website.

Get help if you need it

Springtime can be difficult for many people with asthma, but there's no need to suffer. If you are still having trouble with your asthma despite trying to avoid triggers and taking medication, talk with your health care provider. If your provider thinks that your allergies are severe, or if it is too difficult to avoid your triggers, he or she may recommend that you get allergy shots (immunotherapy). The shots help build up your tolerance to the allergen so that your symptoms may improve.