Allergic asthma sufferers should take some precautions when exercising

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comMarch 26, 2014 

  • It's the worst allergy season ever!

    Every year it seems people grumble "this is the worst allergy season ever." But, the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America says it's hard to determine year-to-year the severity of allergy season.

    However, there are some explanations for why more Americans are being diagnosed with allergies.

    Climate change: Pollen levels are gradually increasing every year. Part of the reason is climate change. Warmer temperatures and milder winters can cause plants to begin producing and releasing pollen earlier, making the spring allergy season longer. Rain can promote plant and pollen growth, while wind accompanying rainfall can stir pollen and mold into the air, heightening symptoms.

    Priming effect: When the weather becomes erratic and regions experience unseasonably warm temperatures, there is an early release of pollen from trees which triggers symptoms. Once allergy sufferers are exposed to this early pollen, their immune system is primed to react to the allergens, meaning there will be little relief even if temperatures cool down before spring is in full bloom. This "priming effect" can mean heightened symptoms and a longer sneezing season for sufferers.

    Hygiene hypothesis: This theory suggests that exposure to bacterial by-products from farm animals and even dogs in the first few months of life reduces or delays the onset of allergies and asthma. This may, in part, explain the increasing incidence of allergies worldwide in developed countries.

    Allergy: The new Kleenex: Ever hear someone ask for a Kleenex instead of a tissue? Much like some relate all tissues to Kleenex, many also blame runny noses, sneezing and itchy eyes on allergies, even if they haven't been accurately diagnosed. Increased awareness and public education can make it seem like nearly everyone has an allergy or is getting diagnosed with allergies.

  • What are allergies?

    Allergies reflect an overreaction of the immune system to substances that usually cause no reaction in most individuals. These substances can 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 (indoors or outdoors, for example) are all taken into consideration when a doctor diagnoses allergies.

    Additionally, allergic reactions can be severe and even fatal. However, with proper management and patient education, allergic diseases can be controlled, and people with allergies can lead normal and productive lives.

    Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America

Spring has sprung, and in addition to welcoming the beauty and warmth of the season, many folks welcome — though maybe not with eager anticipation — seasonal allergies.

And for some, allergies and asthma go hand in hand. More than 50 percent of the 20 million Americans with asthma have allergic asthma, according to the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America. Over 2.5 million children under age 18 suffer from allergic asthma.

Many of the symptoms of allergic and non-allergic asthma are the same — coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath or rapid breathing and chest tightness. But allergic asthma is triggered by inhaled allergens such as dust mites, pet dander, pollen or mold.

Dr. Jamshed Kanga, chief of the division of pediatric pulmonology at the University of Kentucky, said "when you look at Kentucky almost everyone has seasonal allergies."

But some people may not realize they are suffering from allergic asthma, he said. Most people associate asthma with wheezing and asthma attacks but a persistent cough is often the most prevalent symptom of allergic asthma. Allergic asthma can also be misdiagnosed as bronchitis, he said.

Determining the cause of breathing trouble in children can also be difficult. Today's kids don't run and play as they once did so what may look at first like asthma may be lack of conditioning, he said.

But if parents are concerned about their child, they should talk to the coach or teacher who can identify whether the child is having out-of-the-ordinary challenges.

If you have breathing troubles which makes exercising more difficult, it can be easy to avoid exercise, said Dr. Tracie Overbeck, of Allergy Partners of Central Kentucky.

But your lungs need to be worked just like the rest of your body, she said. People with allergic asthma need to take a few extra steps to prepare for exercise. A debilitating asthma attack is very rare if people take their asthma medication regularly and take some precautions when exercising, said Kanga.

First, Overbeck suggests asking your doctor to help you get a baseline of your breathing. That way you can note changes in symptoms as you exercise.

Then, she said, it's important to warm up your lungs just as you warm up your body. Take 10 minutes to warm up before exercising, she said, taking slow deep breaths, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.

Ask your doctor about prescribing an inhaler for asthma, Kanga said, and use it about 15 minutes before you begin to exercise.

Overbeck discovered her asthma in college while playing soccer. But, she said, asthma "doesn't have to be a limiting thing."

It is important to continue to take the medicine as prescribed even when you start to feel better.

Mary Meehan: (859) 231-3261. Twitter: @bgmoms.Blog: BluegrassMoms.com.

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