Spring Showers Bring . . . Spring Allergies

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 Spring showers + warming temperatures + early tree buds = increased suffering from spring allergies for many of us. Our allergy tips below can help people with COPD or asthma cope with spring allergies.

Allergies Can Be Sneaky

We know. It’s been a long, cold winter. As the weather warms, we all like to get outside and at least think about opening our windows. But if you’re bothered by tree pollen, think again. Opening your windows might help you sleep more comfortably at night, but spring winds can bring tree pollen right into your bedroom causing you increased breathing difficulty.

And things might be getting worse. Botanists tell us that climate warming causes trees and other plants to pollenate earlier, in some areas up to two weeks earlier than just a few years ago. The nature’s spring pays little attention to our calendar. And this means that spring allergy season can last four months from March through June.

In many places, lawn mowing begins in early spring. Grass pollen also becomes a problem then, lasting all the way through the summer. Flowers and weeds contribute their own pollen to the mix. For folks with COPD who suffer from such allergens, gardening might not be the best outdoor activity.

Don’t forget allergy triggers from winter either. Outdoors, spring winds can whip up molds and other debris that has lurked underneath the snow and in the soil. Molds and dust also accumulate in our homes during winter months. Spring cleaning is a worthy and helpful tradition! Pay special attention to bedrooms, floor coverings, and damp places in your living quarters.

How Allergies Affect Persons with COPD

COPD and asthma patients usually encounter greater difficulty breathing from allergens that affect their airways. Pollens, dust mites, and other substances release histamines that increase production of mucus and narrow air passages.

The increased difficulty in breathing can trigger exacerbations that require medical attention. For this reason, reducing exposure to allergens becomes an important factor in managing symptoms of COPD and asthma.

How to Cope with Spring Allergies

To reduce the misery of watery eyes, runny noses, sneezing, coughing, and to improve breathing, you can try the following measures:

  1. Reduce direct exposure to tree, grass, and other pollens. If possible, keep windows closed and remain indoors especially at night. Use air conditioning to filter the air and change or clean filters monthly. Be especially careful on windy days, and keep an eye on your local air quality and pollen count (AccuWeather, The Weather Channel, and AirNow provide air quality information according to your location).
  2. During periods of high pollen counts or low air quality, limit your outdoor activity. Continue your exercise routine, but do it indoors where air quality is likely to be better.
  3. If you are allergic to molds, take it easy while cleaning up outside. If you work outside or do gardening, wear a mask capable of filtering pollen and dust. Also avoid walking in the woods during wet weather or when pollen counts are high.
  4. Control the presence of dust mites.
    1. Clean your sleeping areas thoroughly.
    2. Encase your mattress and pillows in allergen-proof covers (available online and in many bedding or department stores).
    3. Wash all bedding weekly in hot (at least 130ºF) water and dry on high heat.
    4. Replace wall-to-wall carpeting with non-fabric flooring.
    5. Remove as much upholstered furniture as possible.
    6. Vacuum with double-layered microfilter bag or HEPA filter installed.
    7. Use damp mop or rag to remove dust (dry rags merely stir up allergens).
  5. If you have pets, try to reduce your exposure to pet dander. Use an air purifier to reduce dander and keep pets out of your bedroom where you spend a great deal of time. You can also use pet wipes between grooming visits to reduce dander. Wiping surfaces where pets have been also helps.
  6. To ease symptoms, your doctor might prescribe or suggest the following medications. Always check with your doctor before using any medications.
    1. Antihistamines (available in pills, liquids, or nasal sprays; Benadryl™, Zyrtec™, Allegra™) to reduce runny nose, nasal congestion, and sneezing.
    2. Nasal corticosteroids (Flonase™, Nasonex™) for reducing all symptoms and blocking allergic reactions. Best if begun before symptoms emerge. May have side effects.
    3. Leukotriene receptor antagonists (Monteleukast™) useful in treating asthma and blocking effects of allergens.
    4. Decongestants (in spray, pills, or liquids) for relieving nasal stuffiness; can have unwanted side effects for persons with high blood pressure and might cause drowsiness.
  7. In instances of severe or chronic allergic reaction, it might be necessary to receive allergy shots (subcutaneous immunotherapy, or SCIT). This should be handled by a physician or allergist who can conduct appropriate testing to identify the specific allergen that is causing the reaction.
  8. If you take over-the-counter or prescription medications, it is wise to begin treatment a couple of weeks before your allergy season begins. Once symptoms have emerged, your body is primed to respond more readily to any allergy triggers.

With proper precautions, you can enjoy the spring weather without endangering your health. Many of the above tips are probably things you are already doing. So let’s celebrate the end of winter and breathe freely.