For many people with asthma, spring can be a very challenging time of the year. Rapid changes in the weather and lingering upper respiratory viruses can both cause breathing difficulties. But for 60-80% of asthmatics, they also have environmental allergies that can cause sudden onset and/or chronic asthma symptoms.
Asthma is the most common chronic childhood health condition and causes recurrent episodes of coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing. Asthma involves the lungs, where inflammation is present at all times. In addition, the airways of asthmatic children are very sensitive and hyper-reactive, causing sudden onset constriction and tightening.
Pollen allergies are often most severe in the spring, which is when trees start to pollinate. Allergy symptoms frequently include itchy/watery eyes, runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, throat clearing, and cough. For children who have asthma and allergies, exposure to airborne allergens can cause asthma attacks, poor sleep quality, missed school days, and fatigue, which can affect learning.
It is often confusing and hard to determine without testing if and/or what your child may or may not be allergic towards. Skin prick (scratch) or blood allergy tests can be very helpful to determine exactly what allergies may exist. An accurate diagnosis can help guide not only the proper medications to take, but also adoption of specific avoidance strategies that can help lower allergen exposure and reduce symptoms.
Pollination patterns for outdoor allergens are pretty consistent throughout the year, but may vary based upon location. In general, trees pollinate in the spring, grasses/weeds during the summer, and ragweed in the autumn. Dry, warm windy days cause the highest levels of pollen, whereas rainy days tend to lower levels of pollen, but this is when mold spores increase.
Avoidance focuses on making the home, and especially the bedroom, pollen free zones. Windows should be kept completely closed at all times inside the home and car during pollen season. Air conditioning is an effective way to stay cool and reduce pollen exposure. Pollen levels are highest during the morning, so outdoor activities should be scheduled for late afternoon/evening, if possible. After spending time outdoors, it can also help to bathe or shower, wash hair, and change clothes before bedtime. Visit our Asthma and Allergy Resources section for more information on managing your child’s symptoms.
It is especially important for children to maintain regular use of any daily asthma or allergy medications and to stay prepared with an up to date asthma treatment plan and access to reliever medications. Developing a plan before allergy season starts is usually much more effective than waiting until symptoms become severe or difficult to control. As always, make sure to discuss any questions or concerns with your doctor.
David Stukus, MD, is an associate professor of pediatrics in the Section of Allergy and Immunology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Dr. Dave, as his patients call him, is passionate about increasing awareness for allergies and asthma.
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