If you suffer from asthma and seasonal allergies, you may notice an increase in your asthma symptoms during allergy season. Here are a few tips to help you breathe easier during allergy season.
Above all, keep your asthma under control
The best way to face the allergy season is to start with lungs that breathe well. It’s essential that you follow your prescribed treatment to the letter. Most importantly, you must take your controller therapy every day, even when you feel fine. This controller therapy (a corticosteroid sometimes combined with a long-acting bronchodilator) reduces the bronchial inflammation that stops the air from circulating normally. When the air doesn’t flow properly, you become breathless, your breathing becomes wheezy, and you may feel a sensation of pressure on your chest.
It’s important to understand that corticosteroids don’t cure the inflammation – they only control it. As soon as you stop taking them, the inflammation and symptoms return. The best way to not experience ups and downs with your symptoms is to keep taking your medication even when you feel better.
Don’t be scared of corticosteroids. The doses administered for asthma are very low, because the inhalers propel the medication directly into the lungs. The benefits of the treatment far outweigh the risks.
Use the proper inhalation technique
Using the right inhalation technique is crucial in the case of asthma, otherwise the dose administered may be too low or, worse yet, may not make it to the lungs at all.
There are many types of devices that deliver asthma medication, each with its own characteristics. Make sure you understand how to release a dose. Don’t hesitate to ask your pharmacist for help.
Regardless of the device being used, these are the essential steps when inhaling your corticosteroid (or any other inhaled medication):
- Prepare the device as instructed by the manufacturer.
- Exhale and empty your lungs of air as much as you can, without it becoming uncomfortable.
- Close your lips tightly around the device mouthpiece.
- Breathe in sharply and deeply to inhale the medication.
- If you have an aerosol inhaler, you must release the dose at this point and inhale at the same time.
- If you have a dry powder inhaler, your sharp inhalation will release the dose.
- Hold your breath 5 to 10 seconds (as long as you can without discomfort)
- Exhale through the nose, keeping your mouth closed. This tip is very useful during allergy season, because if there’s any steroid left in the air you’re exhaling, it will be deposited in your nose and will help control your allergies.
- Rinse your mouth with a bit of water.
Identify your allergens
It can be useful to undergo an allergy test, so that you’ll know exactly which plants are causing your allergies. Knowing this can help you manage your allergies because you’ll be able to plan the time of year where you’re most likely to be exposed.
During the period where your allergens are being produced, watch for the pollen count advisories in the weather forecast.
Reduce your exposure to pollen
The best way to reduce your allergies is to avoid exposure to pollen. Here are some tips:
- Keep a close eye on the pollen index, especially if you’re planning an outdoor activity.
- Keep your windows closed, to avoid letting pollen into the house, even if you have screens.
- Use the dryer (or an indoor clothes rack) to dry your clothes, towels and bed sheets.
- Do your outdoor activities later in the day (pollen concentrations are highest in the morning), or take advantage of rainy days (the rain carries pollen to the ground).
- After spending time outdoors, take a shower and wash your hair. Pollen tends to accumulate in our hair. Wash your clothes as well.
Rinse your eyes and nose
Allergy symptoms are triggered when pollen comes into contact with the mucus membranes of the body, mostly the nose, but also the eyes. Regular rinsing helps remove as much pollen as possible, which in turn helps reduce your symptoms.
You can use a saline-based nasal spray or nasal douche to rinse your nose. Do it after an outdoor activity, or at least once a day. If you feel congested, the saline solution will also help clear your nose.
Likewise, you can use eye drops to rinse out your eyes.
Effective treatment of your allergies
Corticosteroid nasal sprays are the first line of treatment to relieve allergy symptoms (including ocular symptoms) in asthma sufferers who are allergic to pollen. As with the treatment of asthma, corticosteroid nasal sprays are most effective when used every day, for the whole duration of the pollen season.
Your doctor may prescribe a nasal corticosteroid for your allergies. If your prescription has expired, your pharmacist can renew it if you meet certain criteria. Don’t hesitate to enquire about this service. Many products are also sold without a prescription but are kept behind the counter, so ask your pharmacist if you are looking for advice or a specific product.
Antihistamines are effective, but are more indicated for mild or occasional symptoms (e.g. when planning to visit a friend who has a cat).
As mentioned before, it’s crucial to continue your regular asthma treatment throughout the allergy season. You can take a nasal corticosteroid even if you already take corticosteroids for your asthma, since each product is only deposited where it is intended to take effect.
If you have any questions on the treatment of your asthma or allergies, don’t hesitate to speak to your pharmacist.