Before Jennifer Elridge of Torrington, CT, was diagnosed with asthma 10 years ago, there were some times when her symptoms got really serious.
“I would start coughing and be extremely short of breath,” she says. She went to the emergency room several times when the coughing wouldn’t stop and the struggle to breathe grew more intense. Add to this the fact that certain seasons — especially those with high pollen counts — left her a sneezing, wheezing, itchy-eyed, runny-nosed mess, and she knew something was definitely wrong.
“I finally decided to go to an allergist to [find out] what was causing these attacks,” she says. “Because there’s no fear like the fear of not being able to breathe.”
At first, Elridge says she was told that she had seasonal allergies. But further tests showed that what she really had was asthma, and the allergies were triggering her asthma attacks.“Allergic asthma is the most common type of asthma,” says Purvi Parikh, MD, an allergist with the Allergy & Asthma Network in Vienna, VA. Dust mites, down, mold, pollen, cigarette smoke, pollution, animal hair and dander, and even some insects, like cockroaches, can trigger allergic asthma, but really it can happen with any allergen. And you can take steps to help prevent that.
Know Your Triggers
One the best ways to manage your condition is to arm yourself with information about it. See an allergist to identify your triggers and what treatment options are available to you, Parikh says. “And once you know what allergens will cause an asthma attack, try to minimize those triggers in your home and work environment.” For example, if you know that pet hair or dust mites can cause a reaction, then avoid those triggers as best you can.
It’s important to understand the nature of your symptoms, says Louis DePalo, MD, professor of pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York City. He adds that you also need to figure out what coughing vs. wheezing means about your condition, and whether the shortness of breath and chest tightness you feel are brought on by exercise or by a reaction to one of your known allergy triggers.
Keep triggers under control to help you lower the likelihood of an asthma flare.
- During high-pollen days, avoid going outside and keep bedroom and car windows closed.
- Avoid places where people typically wear strong-smelling fragrances.
- Avoid secondhand smoke, including from vaping.
- Use allergy bed covers.
- Wash bed linens in hot water.
- If you have pets, keep them out of your bedroom.
- Use an air filter in your bedroom.
- Consider flushing out your sinuses with an at-home nasal irrigation system like a neti pot.
- Schedule routine checkups with your allergist.
Take Your Meds
Find a treatment plan and preventative medications that work for you and be sure to take them as recommended every day, says Kara Wada, MD, an allergist and immunologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. Taking medications just when you feel a reaction coming on won’t help you in the long run.
“These are the medications that calm the inflammation that lead to the symptoms of asthma,” Wada says. Be prepared, too. Always carry your quick-acting asthma inhaler, as you never know when you might need it.
“I never realized that seasonal allergies could play such a big part in my asthma until I started my regimen of medication,” Elridge says. “If I slack on one of the medications, I notice a difference immediately.”
Overall, the key to successfully managing allergy-induced asthma or any chronic condition is communicating with your doctor or allergy specialist, says Allen Dozor, MD, chief of pediatric pulmonology, allergy and sleep medicine at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital in Valhalla, NY. Use these visits with your specialist to see if your treatment plan is meeting your goals.
“Even if you are doing well, it’s important to stick with these routine visits,” Dozor says.