How spring weather can trigger flare-ups of asthma symptoms

By Kevin Byrne, AccuWeather staff writer

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The return of spring and the influx of allergens that unfold as the weather gets warmer can be problematic for those who suffer from asthma.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), more than 24.5 million Americans are affected by asthma. About 60 percent of adults and 80 percent of children have asthma that’s triggered by allergies.

There are four primary factors to keep in mind when it comes to spring weather and how it can worsen asthma conditions, according to Dr. Sudheer Penupolu, a pulmonologist and critical care specialist with Geisinger Health System.

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The first of these factors includes triggers that occur in the spring, such as when people breathe in certain allergens in their surroundings.

Tree pollen peaks in the spring, and warm and windy weather can often result in high tree pollen counts. In some cases, winds can carry pollen for miles.

“Asthma is a disease that is driven by triggers,” Penupolu said, citing allergens such as pollen, mold and hay as those that can cause trouble.

The humidity levels in your surroundings can also play a role. When it’s humid, there is more water content in the air. For those with healthy lungs, it may not be noticeable, but for asthmatics or those who suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), humidity can make their breathing worse, according to Penupolu.

Humidity can also allow dust mites and mold to thrive, the AAFA states.

The warm and pleasant springtime weather can be a welcome sight for those looking to get outdoors and enjoy the fresh air. However, after a long winter when many are cooped up inside, heading outdoors to exercise can result in exercised-induced asthma, also known as exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB).

EIB is when airflow obstruction occurs because of exercise. Symptoms may begin during exercise and can often be worse five to 10 minutes after completion. As many as 90 percent of asthmatics will experience symptoms of EIB during exercise, according to the AAFA.

A fourth factor can be an increase in pollutants, like ozone. Penupolu said that ozone quantity can increase during hot weather and particularly during the daytime.

pollen asthma allergies

Pollen is seen in the air Tuesday, March 20, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

“In areas that have high ozone quantity, you tend to see a spike in asthma exacerbation around this time,” he said.

Penupolu explained that there are different types of asthma and various triggers can bring different reactions for asthmatics. Some may experience worse symptoms from pollen levels in the fall, as opposed to the spring. Others may suffer allergic reactions from colder air in the winter or dust mites in their homes.

For those with eosinophilic asthma, the spring allergens don’t have much of an impact. Eosinophilic asthma is a subtype of asthma, which can be severe. It occurs when cells in our bodies, that are there to protect from infection, can "get out of control" and promote a response in the airways that causes an asthmalike reaction, according to Penupolu.

"Eosinophilic asthma, as a rule, usually does not get worse with allergens," he said.

There are several methods that people can follow to help reduce their exposure to certain allergy triggers or to limit symptoms.

To begin, people can try to simply avoid or limit exposure to these allergies, although that can be easier said than done.

"If you’re allergic to a specific flower or pollen or chemical, try to avoid it as much as possible. If avoidance is not possible, then the next step is to try to limit exposure as much as possible," Penupolu said.

People can limit the exposure by wearing a mask or coming home and showering right away to wash away the pollen that may linger in your hair or on your body.

Taking prescribed medications will also help mitigate symptoms. However, Penupolu said sometimes people will stop using medications and not consult their doctors after their symptoms are controlled during the winter. This can leave them unprotected when allergens strike back in spring and cause their asthma to worsen.

"[People] should be aware of that and should be careful to go to a doctor before things get really out of hand," he said.

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