Each year, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America declares May to be “National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month.” May is peak season for asthma and allergy sufferers, and therefore a perfect time to educate your patients, family, friends, co-workers and others about these health issues.
Unfortunately, there is no place safe from allergies in America. Finding the allergy capitals is an annual research project of the AAFA to identify “the 100 most challenging places to live with allergies” during the spring and fall seasons. Many of you might have seen this on the news previously, but if not please join us in congratulating Louisville as this year’s No. 1 city, up from fifth place last year (visit www.allergycapitals.com to see where other areas fall on the list).
What are allergies?
Allergies are an overreaction of the immune system to substances that usually cause no reaction in most individuals. These substances could trigger sneezing, wheezing, coughing and itching. Allergies are not only bothersome, but many have been linked to a variety of common and serious chronic respiratory illnesses such as sinusitis and asthma.
Factors such as your family history with allergies, the types and frequency of symptoms, seasonality, duration and even location of symptoms, either indoors or outdoors, are all are taken into consideration when a doctor diagnoses allergies.
Common allergic diseases include: allergic rhinitis, allergic asthma, food and drug allergies, insect sting/bite allergy, latex allergy, urticarial, atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, allergic conjunctivitis and anaphylaxis.
Allergy treatment is often based on the results of your allergy tests, your medical history, and the severity of your symptoms. It can include three different treatment strategies: avoidance of allergens, medication options and/or immunotherapy (allergy shots).
The AAFA provides a list of simple things you can do to prevent allergies that include:
Dust to control mites. By dusting surfaces and washing bedding often, you can control the amount of dust mites in your home.
Vacuum often. Although cleaning can sometimes trigger allergic reactions, with dust in the air, vacuuming once or twice a week will reduce the surface dust mites. Wear a mask when doing housework and consider leaving for a few hours after you clean to avoid allergens in the air. You can also make sure your vacuum has an air filter to capture dust.
Reduce pet dander. If you have allergies, you should avoid pets with feathers or fur like birds, dogs and cats. Animal saliva and dead skin, or pet dander, can cause allergic reactions. If you can’t bear to part with your pet, you should at least keep it out of the bedroom.
Shut out pollen. One easy way to prevent pollen from entering your home is to keep windows and doors closed. Use an air filter and clean it regularly or run the air conditioner and change the filter often.
Avoid mold spores. Mold spores grow in moist areas. If you reduce the moisture in the bathroom and kitchen, you will reduce the mold. Fix any leaks inside and outside of your home and clean moldy surfaces. Plants can carry pollen and mold too, so limit the number of houseplants. Dehumidifiers will also help reduce mold.
Although asthma is sometimes tied to severe allergic responses it has also assumed a life of its own. According to the AAFA, asthma is defined as a disease in which the airways become blocked or narrowed. These effects are most often temporary, but they can cause shortness of breath, breathing trouble and other symptoms. If an asthma episode is severe, a person may need emergency treatment to restore normal breathing.
It is estimated that approximately 20 million people in the United States have asthma. Asthmatic episodes account for nearly 500,000 hospital stays each year. People with asthma can be of any race, age or sex. Its treatment costs billions of dollars annually.
There still remains much to be learned about what causes asthma and how to prevent it. Although it can cause severe health problems, in most cases treatment can control it and allow a person to live a normal and active life.
Here are some considerations set forth by the AAFA that should be part of an asthma management plan:
Identify and minimize contact with your asthma triggers. Any time you have an asthma episode, think about where you were and what you were doing in the past day or so. Answer questions like these: Was I making a bed or vacuuming? Was I near an animal? Cigarette smoke? Was I running, playing or exercising? Was I upset, excited or tired?
Take your medications as prescribed. Asthma medicines are usually inhaled through a machine called a nebulizer, through a small device called a metered dose inhaler (also called an inhaler, puffer, or MDI) or through a dry powder inhaler (DPI).
Monitor your asthma and recognize early signs that it may be worsening. Some people feel early symptoms, including: coughing, chest tightness, feeling very tired. But because airways to the lungs narrow slowly, you may not feel symptoms until your airways are badly blocked. The key to controlling your asthma is taking your medicine at the earliest possible sign of worsening.
Know what to do when your asthma is worsening. If you understand your asthma management plan and follow it, you will know exactly what to do in case of an asthma episode or an emergency. If you have questions, ask your doctor.
As part of Essential Public Health Service 4, mobilize community partnerships and action to identify and solve health problems, the Franklin County Health Department in collaboration with both the city and county school boards placed registered nurses in all of the public schools within Frankfort and Franklin County.
For more information on allergy and asthma management, visit www.aafa.org.
Debbie Bell is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in health education at the Franklin County Health Department, 851 East-West Connector. Hannah Keeler also contributed to this article.