19 Dec 23

Managing breathing difficulties during allergy season

Seasonal allergies are not just a matter to deal with during spring and summer. Though symptoms usually get worse in that period, because of the higher amount of allergens in the air, seasonal allergies are becoming an all-year-round problem, with symptoms lingering up through fall and winter, due to milder temperatures causing plants to pollinate earlier and higher humidity levels that lead to an increase in mold.

  1. How allergies work

An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system overreacts to the presence of specific substances, named allergens, in the environment.

Airborne allergens include pollen, dust mites, pet fur or dander and mold spores. The body identifies the allergen as a threat, stimulating an abnormal immune response.

Although sneezing, coughing, nasal congestion and minor respiratory issues represent common symptoms to most people, seasonal allergies may lead to serious breathing difficulties for some patients, especially when they are already suffering from chronic conditions such as asthma or COPD.

  1. Seasonal allergies and chronic lung conditions

Seasonal allergies may actually exacerbate chronic lung conditions, which is why it’s so important to prevent and manage the insurgence of symptoms.

In patients with asthma, allergic reactions may trigger an irritation that cause the airways to swollen, making it hard for the patient to breath. In patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), instead, the allergens may trigger an overproduction of mucus, causing the airways to narrow.

In the worst cases, the attacks can be so severe that emergency care is required.

  1. How to manage breathing difficulties during allergy season

The most effective way to manage breathing difficulties during allergy season is prevention. A few lifestyle changes can be necessary to increase the patient safety, especially at home.

Actions that can help prevent the insurgence of symptoms include:

  • Limiting outdoor exposure during peak pollen times. Though it is not always possible, this can help avoiding contact with pathogens. If you are no stranger to severe allergic reactions, you may consider wearing a filter mask, as well as sunglasses to avoid eye congestion. Another good habit is changing your clothes whenever you get home, so that you won’t carry around dust or pollen collected outside.
  • Keeping indoor air clean. This may be the most effective way of avoiding allergic reactions. Remember to clean or replace air conditioning philters and, if possible, avoid opening windows during the daytime.
  • Keeping the house clean. A regular cleaning routine will help keeping your house free of dust mites or mold.
  1. Medications that can help manage allergic reactions

Medication can indeed help in managing breathing difficulties during allergy season, so long as you consult a healthcare provider before starting a treatment, in order to avoid side effects or interactions with other meds you may already be taking.

Here are some of the solutions available:

  • Antihistamines. This type of medications can block the effects of histamine, a chemical released by the immune system that is responsible for the allergic reaction. They can be very effective to keep sneezing and itching under control, though they may cause drowsiness.
  • Decongestants. They help reduce nasal congestion by narrowing blood vessels in the nasal passages. However, nasal sprays should not be used for long periods of time, as they can cause rebound congestion.
  • Leukotriene modifiers. They can block the effects of leukotrienes, chemicals produced by the immune system that are responsible for inflammation in the airways, and can be used to manage wheezing and coughing.
  • Immunotherapy. Also known as allergy shots, immunotherapy involves regular injections of small amounts of allergens over a period of several months, so that the immune system becomes desensitized, thus reducing the severity of the reaction.
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