Keeping Allergies & Asthma Under Control

Georgia is well known for its allergies since we have so many trees and plants in our beautiful city. Those beautiful trees could also be making you sick.

Seasonal allergies and asthma are two chronic, often-linked conditions that affect millions of lives in Georgia and across the U.S. While there is no cure for either, there are steps you can take to avoid triggers as well as reduce the aggravation of symptoms. 

What is an allergic reaction?

An allergic reaction takes place when proteins in your immune system, called antibodies, mistakenly determine that a normally harmless substance is a threat to the body. The immune system binds the antibodies to the invading substance and releases a chemical called immunoglobulin E (IgE). When too much IgE is produced, it causes the familiar reactions and miseries that disrupt our daily lives—itchy and watery eyes, sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, coughing, etc.

Seasonal allergies

The most common seasonal allergies include:

  • Respiratory and eye—these are often triggered by:
    • Pollen from trees, grass, and weeds
    • Dust mites and mold spores
    • Dander from cats, dogs, and rodents
  • Skin allergies with rashes—oils from poison ivy, poison sumac, and poison oak are often threats during summer and fall

The most common trigger among allergy sufferers is pollen. When spring arrives, pollen is released from a wide variety of plants and can travel for miles when windblown, and ultimately land in eyes and noses.

Treating allergies

Seasonal allergy symptoms can usually be eased with over-the-counter and prescription medications.

  • Antihistamine medications—these come in various forms, such as tablets, capsules, and nasal sprays.
  • Anti-inflammation nasal sprays—one or two sprays to each nostril daily can block allergy from happening and prevent allergy symptoms.
  • Allergy shots—on rare occasions when typical allergy medications don’t provide relief, allergy shots, when administered by a specialist physician, can help. These contain a tiny amount of the thing you’re allergic to—pollen, mold, pet dander, etc.—and help your immune system build tolerance to the allergen.

Allergy and asthma connection

Asthma is a condition resulting from chronic inflammation of the lower airways, causing increased sensitivity to a variety of stimuli that results in decreased airflow into the lungs. Often, a specific cause is not found and there is evidence showing that a person’s genetic predisposition plays a role in asthma. Some identified triggers are infections, smoking, pollution, and even excess weight. But allergies are the number one trigger, with more than 60 percent of the 26 million asthma sufferers in the U.S. being affected.

What happens during an asthma attack?

When the airway comes into contact with an allergen, the lining of the airway becomes inflamed and causes the airway to become constricted. Mucus build-up further clogs the airway, resulting in difficulty in breathing, wheezing, coughing, and other respiratory problems.

Common triggers for allergy-induced asthma

Many substances that cause allergic reactions can also trigger asthma attacks—these include:

  • Pollen
  • Dust mites
  • Pet dander
  • Mold and fungi
  • Latex
  • Medicine
  • Food

Managing asthma

Medicines for asthma include 1) controller medications that are anti-inflammatory agents that control chronic airway inflammation and 2) quick relievers that relax the smooth muscle around the airway to allow bronchodilation and open up the airways so that normal airflow can occur, thus making it easier to breathe. Be sure to consult your doctor or pulmonologist to create an action plan that can best control your asthma symptoms and maintain normal lung function.    

You can also incorporate some practices in your lifestyle that may help minimize asthma symptoms:

  • Identify your triggers
    It’s worth noting that not everything you are allergic to will automatically trigger asthma symptoms. Your doctor can perform a blood or skin test to specifically identify allergens, environments, chemicals, or activities that cause allergic asthma episodes.

  • Be more active
    Regular exercise is important to your overall health. Even if you have exercise-induced asthma, moderate aerobic activities have been found to help asthma symptoms. In addition, obesity is recognized as a trigger for asthma, and exercise that can help shed excess weight can further improve asthma management.

  • Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables
    Studies have shown that antioxidant-rich diets, which often include a wide variety of common fruits and vegetables, have been linked to improvement of asthma symptoms. Beyond addressing asthma symptoms, eating foods packed with antioxidants provides a multitude of other health and wellness benefits as well.

  • Take steps to relax
    Research has proven that stress can often trigger an asthma episode. If at all possible, avoid situations that can cause extreme emotions or increase tension. Try activities such as yoga or progressive muscle relaxation. Even deep breathing exercises can help.

Gloria Westney, M.D.

Gloria Westney, M.D.

Specializes in Internal Medicine, Pulmonary/Critical Care

Learn more about Dr. Westney.