The late arrival of spring can mean bad news for those with asthma. Prolonged winters result in plants and flowers blooming all at once, creating a perfect storm of pollen, which triggers the disease.
Recognizing the signs and symptoms and how to manage your asthma is important and MSU HealthTeam physicians want to help.
Asthma affects the lungs, causing the airway to narrow and swell and produce extra mucus. Patients can experience shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness, and a whistling or wheezing sound when exhaling and coughing. Wheezing attacks can worsen from allergy triggers, irritants or respiratory viruses that cause colds or flu.
In Michigan, there are approximately 900,000 people with asthma – around 600,000 adults and 300,000 children. The disease can appear later in life and for many adults, symptoms are induced by not only allergies, but exercise and the workplace.
“Exercise is one of the more common triggers of asthma and can be pretty limiting for some asthmatics,” said Ryan Thomas a pediatric pulmonologist with an interest in asthma and cystic fibrosis. “Symptoms can occur either during, or often immediately after exercise. Fortunately, exercise triggered attacks rarely lead to hospitalization and a clear majority of asthmatics will be able to control their symptoms by using a rescue inhaler prior to exercise."
If pre-treatment is ineffective for patients, Thomas added it might be because it’s poorly controlled, or the symptoms could be the result of something other than asthma.
“It’s important to follow-up with your physician if your asthma is limiting your ability to do the activities you want to do because often, we can help,” Thomas said.
Common outdoor allergy irritants include pollen, mold, cold air and air pollution. Patients should work with their doctor to find out what causes or worsens their asthma and take steps to avoid it.
“Seasons are getting longer and more intense with climate change,” said Martin Hurwitz, a pediatric pulmonologist that specializes in allergy and immunology. “As the levels of carbon dioxide in the air increases, so does the rate in which many plants grow.”
According to Hurwitz, a good example is ragweed, which is the primary allergen trigger of fall hay fever. The plant grows faster and produces more pollen with the extended growing season.
“Pollen counts are getting higher very quickly, meaning the symptoms of those who suffer from allergies will only get worse,” he said.
Asthma is responsible for about 120 deaths per year in Michigan and accounts for a quarter of all emergency room visits. There is no cure for asthma, but there are ways to manage asthma by knowing what triggers it and develop a plan with your doctor to live with it.
“Proper asthma management includes disease education, how to use inhalers and meds properly, and how to avoid triggers,” said Kim Krummrey, a family nurse practitioner in pulmonology. “Education and awareness of asthma are the first steps in controlling your symptoms and keeping you safe. A holistic patient centered approach is beneficial.”
If you think you might have asthma, contact the MSU HealthTeam at (517) 884-8600.