Most days, I love my morning commute. I’m fortunate that I work close enough to where I live that I can walk to work each day and enjoy a little fresh air and exercise to start the day — but this morning was different. The parked cars I normally pass were covered in a yellowish green powder-like substance: pollen.
Almost immediately, my contacts started to feel dry and uncomfortable, but I kept walking. A few minutes later, my nose started itching. By the time I got to work I was sneezing uncontrollably — and feeling a bit embarrassed about it!
This same thing had happened the summer before when the pollen count in my city was out of control, so much so that staying inside felt like the most viable option. That’s when reality sank in and I realized I needed a plan — fast.
I got an allergy skin prick test, which is where your skin is exposed to various allergens and observed for signs of an allergic reaction. I won’t sugar coat it — it was uncomfortable and very itchy. That said, it’s a really insightful process that can help diagnose allergic asthma, food allergies, and dermatitis, to name a few.
It not only helped me manage my asthma triggers and symptom flares but also gave me a blueprint for what foods could trigger reactions, too.
If you’re similarly concerned about allergies exacerbating your asthma symptoms, or think you might have allergic asthma, there are resources that can help. Here are my three tips to help you balance allergies and asthma.
Get a proper diagnosis
Nearly 25 million Americans are living with allergic asthma, a type of asthma where allergens trigger or exacerbate your symptoms. Some of the most common allergens are cockroaches, dust mites, mold, pets, and pollen. For me, the main offenders are dust, pollen, mold, and pets.
Trust me, it’s nearly impossible to avoid many of them as they travel near and far — and sometimes, even on people. There is no space too small or too great for allergens to live. That’s why a proper diagnosis is the first step to identifying your triggers and creating a symptom management plan.
I’d recommend writing down your symptoms over a week or two, noting when you have the most difficulty breathing. For example, when you’re climbing the stairs, running outside, or near a body of water. Then, I’d schedule an appointment with your doctor, where you’ll likely go through a physical exam, lung function test, or possibly other types of diagnostic tests depending on your symptoms. Based on your results, you may need to take an allergy skin prick test, which can be incredibly helpful and give you a better picture of your overall health.
Believe me, the more you can rule out, the better.
With a proper diagnosis, you’ll be able to work with your doctor to figure out which type of asthma treatment is best for you based on your specific symptoms and needs.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all option when it comes to treatment. Honestly, I have tried a mixture of allergy medications, inhalers, and more. Ask your doctor about different treatment options and experiment to see what works best for you.
It’s important to ask questions and determine what you actually need in order to have the quality of life you deserve.
You’ll feel more prepared when you know what you’re up against. For example, if you’re visiting a place in a high altitude, you may want to take your rescue inhaler or another form of treatment depending on your symptoms.
I was visiting Colorado and noticed that the altitude had an impact on my breathing pattern, so I used a treatment for inflammation the entire time. I also knew that different allergens there would likely bother me, so I took my go-to allergy medication a few days before I left for my trip. It’s really important to do as much in advance as you can — and above all, listen to what your body is telling you.
Take notes, take action
Depending on your symptoms and where you are with your asthma journey, you’ll want to keep a record of what worked and what had little or no impact on your breathing.
Shockingly enough, it doesn’t stop there! Knowing when allergy season starts, understanding pollen count in your area (or an area you’re traveling to), and figuring out your plan of action are all key factors to consider as part of your asthma management plan. For example, what are your first steps when you have an asthma attack? Who do you call first? Where is your rescue inhaler?
Finding the right methods may take some trial and error, but I assure you that the time and effort you put into it is more than worth it. The relief you feel once you get to that point is a great reward.
Several years ago, I had no idea what to do when it came to my allergies, let alone allergies combined with asthma symptoms. I was extremely congested, afraid to work out, and downright miserable trying to tame my allergies for fear of a flare-up. If you’ve experienced what I’ve described, this doesn’t have to be your “normal.” Talk with your doctor about treatment alternatives or other methods of managing your symptoms.
While you can’t control the environment, you can certainly control your response to it. Be aware of your symptoms and have an action plan in place. Being patient with yourself is also key — it’s a journey to better health, not a sprint.
RESP-US-NP-00074 JULY 2018