Spring Allergies Can Trigger Asthma

Last Editorial Review: 6/14/2005

Time your allergy and asthma medications carefully, doctors say.

By Jeanie Lerche Davis
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Cynthia Haines

Timing is everything -- especially when it comes to seasonal allergy and asthma medications.

What's the best plan of attack? When should we start our allergy or asthma medications? Is it OK to wait until symptoms appear? Or is prevention best?

We took these questions to Paul Enright, MD, moderator of WebMD's Asthma Message Board. His advice:

Time Your Medications

"If you have hay fever -- runny nose, itchy eyes -- it's OK to wait for symptoms to occur before starting allergy medication," Enright tells WebMD.

"But if you know you get asthma seasonally, restart your asthma controller medications about two weeks before the air warms up and grass, weeds, trees start growing," he explains.

Monitor Peak Air Flow

Ask your doctor for a written "asthma action plan" that includes peak air flow monitoring -- an important measure of lung function.

  • Check peak air flow in the early morning, before you use inhalers or drink coffee. Your peak flow is at its worst at that time, because most people are allergic to dust mites in bedding.
  • Check peak air flow later in the day to ensure that medication is helping.
  • Check out the electronic devices, which are just as accurate in measuring peak flow as your doctor's spirometry, and can be purchased for home use.

Buy HEPA Filters

The most effective filter is the high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. "I love HEPA filters; they remove all small particles from the air," Enright tells WebMD. Those small particles are irritants that trigger allergy and asthma symptoms.

  • Filtrate HEPA filters can be used with whole-house heating/air conditioning systems. "Just keep in mind that whole-home filters only work when the heat or AC is turned on. The rest of the time, your air isn't being filtered," he says.
  • If you don't have a whole-house system, buy a HEPA room unit just for your bedroom. Keep it on a low to medium setting all the time.
  • If allergy or asthma problems are serious, add units to other rooms where you spend a lot of time, such as the family room.

Beware Ionic Breeze Filters

Ionic breeze filters intentionally produce ozone, which manufacturers claim cleans the air. However, ozone in high concentrations is dangerous for people with asthma -- even though it's OK for people who have only allergies, says Enright.

  • Neither the EPA nor the American Lung Association recommends ionic breeze filters.
  • The EPA has established healthy ozone levels, which ionic breeze manufacturers say they do not exceed. However, no third-party tester has come out proving the ozone levels produced, says Enright.
  • Ozone is not effective in removing indoor air contaminants, according to the EPA.

Enright also says to be careful while outdoors:

  • Outdoor exercise is fine -- except during high smog, pollen, smoke, or dust levels.
  • If you get exercise-related asthma, don't rely on over-the-counter drugs. Get a prescription; it will be more effective.
  • Try to avoid extreme temperature changes -- they are triggers for some people with asthma.
  • Stay indoors between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. when outdoor pollen counts are usually highest.
  • Wear a mask (such as an inexpensive painter's mask) when mowing the lawn or gardening.
  • Avoid raking leaves or working with hay or mulch if you are allergic to mold.
  • After being outdoors, take a shower, wash your hair, and change your clothes to remove pollen that may have collected in your clothes and hair.

Other Housekeeping Details

Enright says:

  • Don't open the windows! Most importantly, keep bedroom and car windows closed, since you spend lots of time in those small spaces.
  • Let air conditioning filter and circulate air inside the house.
  • Humidity encourages the reproduction of dust mites; think twice about using a humidifier.
  • Wear a mask and gloves when cleaning, vacuuming, or painting to limit dust and chemical exposure.

Allergy and asthma symptoms can be controlled, but it takes some planning and careful cleaning, Enright says.

Originally published March 12, 2004.

Medically updated January 2005.

SOURCES: Paul Enright, MD, moderator, WebMD's Asthma Message Board. WebMD Medical Reference provided in collaboration with The Cleveland Clinic, "Allergy-Proof Your Environment."

©1996-2005 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.


Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease. See Answer

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