Health Conditions / Respiratory Disease

Here’s How to Survive Your Spring Allergies

Here’s How to Survive Your Spring Allergies

There’s nothing more invigorating than opening your window on a spring day and breathing in the fresh air—unless you have spring allergies, that is. In that case, taking a whiff of those budding blooms may only lead to sneezing and wheezing.Allergies, including seasonal allergies, occur when your immune system mistakenly sees typically harmless substances (like pollen) as a threat. This sets off an attack that leads to an allergic reaction, which can affect your nasal passages, skin, airways, eyes, and digestive system. These reactions can range from mild to severe and vary by person, according to the Mayo Clinic. While you can’t cure allergies, you can learn to control them. Here’s how to conquer your spring allergies when pollen season hits full swing.What are the most common spring allergens?Tree pollen is the most common spring allergen, according to a 2021 allergy report from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).1 Even if you don’t live by a forest, tree pollen is more likely to affect you because the pollen grains are very small. We’re talking about the tiniest of pinches containing thousands of grains, which are even smaller than ragweed pollen grains, the main fall allergy offender. The wind can carry tree pollen for several miles, making spring allergies especially hard to avoid.There are lots of different tree types that release pollen associated with spring allergies, including:AshAspenBirchCedarElmHickoryOakOlivePecanPoplarWillowGrass pollens can also trigger spring allergies for many people, but it depends on where you live. In the northern U.S., grass allergies are at their worst in the late spring and early summer. In the south, grasses may release pollen all year long, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Weed pollen is typically more of late summer or early fall allergen, so you might be spared in the spring.Back to topWhat do spring allergy symptoms feel like?Spring allergy symptoms are the result of a complex set of reactions that occur in the body. Researchers tend to break these reactions down into an early phase and a late phase.According to a 2020 study published in the journal Asthma, Allergy, and Clinical Immunology, in the early phase, an allergen (like pollen) enters your body. There are specific receptors on your cells called antigen-specific immunoglobulin e (IgE) receptors. These IgE receptors trigger a rapid response in the body that involves the release of histamines and other substances that quickly trigger symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes.2 Think of these symptoms as those that occur seemingly the minute you step outside on a nice spring day.The late-stage effects are when your body takes hours to respond to allergen exposure. The cells release other substances that cause inflammation in the body. This inflammation then leads to tissue swelling, which can spur nasal congestion and, in some people, asthma symptoms, such as shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing. Uncontrolled asthma can be dangerous, so it’s important to talk with your doctor or allergist if you experience those symptoms.To sum it up, common spring allergy symptoms can include the following:Dark circles under your eyes (known as “allergy shiners”)Itchy eyes and noseRunny noseSneezingStuffy noseWatery eyes“Some people also have really bad fatigue, which can be the major symptom of their seasonal allergies,” Gary Stadtmauer, MD, FACP, an allergist in private practice in New York City, tells SELF. “Those people need to come in to see an allergist and, in my experience, typically need allergy shots.”

5 Allergy Triggers That Can Set Off Asthma Symptoms

5 Allergy Triggers That Can Set Off Asthma Symptoms

It’s important to note that it’s possible to have allergies and not have asthma, and to have asthma and not have allergies, per the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI). But some people have allergy-induced asthma, which is also known as allergic asthma.What are the most common allergic asthma triggers?Dr. Monteleone says the best way to identify your allergic asthma trigger (or triggers) is to get tested by a board-certified allergist. There are plenty of possible allergens that can spur your asthma symptoms, but these are the most common ones:Pet danderFind yourself reaching for your inhaler any time you’re around a furry or feathery friend? You could be allergic to animal dander, which is microscopic skin particles, saliva proteins, and urine or feces that comes from pets, typically cats, dogs, rodents, or birds, according to the American Lung Association. Because these substances are so tiny, they can hang out in the air for long periods of time and easily stick to fabrics on clothing and furniture.Worth noting: The AAFA points out that there’s no such thing as a “hypoallergenic” cat or dog, which are typically short-haired. That’s because any animal with fur is more prone to carrying other allergens (like dust), so the fur alone isn’t the only possible trigger. If you have allergic asthma that’s triggered by these pets, it’s important to take that into account before actually getting one or being around one.PollenPollen is a fine, powdery substance that stems from plants, and it’s one of the most common triggers of seasonal allergies, according to the AAFA. Pollen tends to blow around in the spring, summer, and fall, winding up practically everywhere outdoors (including in the air you breathe). This can cause major allergic asthma symptoms in people who are susceptible, Dr. Monteleone says. The most common types of pollen that trigger allergic asthma are from grasses and weeds like ragweed, sagebrush, lamb’s quarters, and tumbleweed, as well as certain trees like birch, cedar, and oak.MoldMold—fungi that produce nonvisible spores that are released throughout the air—can lurk indoors or outside. Mold tends to thrive in warm, moist environments, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI). That can make summer and fall particularly difficult seasons for people whose asthma symptoms are triggered by mold. Mold can pose a problem inside your home as well, especially in areas that tend to be damp, like basements or bathrooms.Dust mitesYou can’t see dust mites, but they can set off your allergic asthma symptoms. In fact, they may be the most common trigger of allergies and asthma that occur year-round, the AAFA says. These teeny, spider-shaped creatures (*shivers*) live in places like mattresses, bedding, upholstered furniture, carpets, and curtains, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. They survive by eating pet dander or skin flakes that humans naturally shed. Both the dust mites and their poop can trigger allergic asthma in some people.CockroachesCockroaches can lurk in many homes and buildings—they love warm places that provide food and water, like kitchens and bathrooms. Whether you physically see them or not (as they’re notoriously sneaky and most active at night), roaches can trigger allergic asthma symptoms. Their body parts, saliva, and poop contain a protein1 that is a common year-round allergen for many people, according to the AAFA.Non-allergic asthma triggers to noteEven though the triggers above are the most common source of allergic asthma symptoms, the condition can also feel worse due to things that cause non-allergic asthma2, like viral respiratory infections, exercise, irritants in the air (such as strong disinfectants, heavy fragrances like perfume, tobacco smoke, or air pollution), stress, drugs, certain food additives, and even the weather, according to the ACAAI.How are allergic asthma treatments tailored based on triggers?If you suspect that you have allergic asthma, it’s important to meet with a board-certified allergist to get a proper diagnosis first, Priya Patel, M.D., an allergist and immunologist at Penn Medicine, tells SELF. “The allergist can do testing, which may consist of skin testing or blood testing, to help identify allergens that may be triggering asthma,” she explains. “They can then provide tips for how to avoid those allergens.”

Allergic Asthma Is Way More Common Than You Might Think

Allergic Asthma Is Way More Common Than You Might Think

The main difference between allergic asthma and non-allergic asthma are the triggers. While exercise, cold air, and even strong emotions such as stress can trigger non-allergic asthma, allergens, including dust mites, pet dander, pollen, and mold, are the most common culprits of allergic asthma. Cockroaches can also be a trigger, as their poop, saliva, and body parts can cause an allergic reaction in some people (So gross).How can I tell the difference between typical allergies and allergic asthma?“Allergies and asthma tend to run together, so you’ll often find people with allergies who also have asthma,” Sonali Bose, M.D., associate professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, and Pediatrics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, tells SELF. “But there are also a disproportionate number of people who have seasonal allergies without any asthma at all.” In fact, more than 50 million people in the U.S. are allergic to something, per the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.The big giveaway that you’re dealing with nothing more than plain ol’ allergies? You have weird nose- and eye-related symptoms without any respiratory action like wheezing, asthma’s calling card. Having allergic asthma, however, means your body might pull from a grab bag of typical allergy and asthma symptoms, mixing and matching in a way that causes overlap between the two.“Allergies can manifest in many different ways,” says Dr. Bose. “We often see upper airway symptoms—runny nose, itchy eyes—that are the allergic response. That by itself wouldn’t make you worry about asthma. But if someone is wheezing, has chest tightness, and shortness of breath, then you have to consider whether their inflammation is also involving the lower airways,” she says. That’s because “asthma is a disease of the lower airways—particularly the small, very tiny, airways we have in our lungs,” she adds. “It’s geographically separated from a lot of what we consider allergies in the nose, throat, and eyes.”What kinds of allergic asthma tests are typically done to reach a diagnosis?When it comes to allergic asthma, you probably already have a hunch about what triggers your symptoms. For example, if you get wheezy every time you dogsit, Spike is probably the culprit. Regardless of what trigger you suspect, it’s still important to see an allergist to figure out what specifically is causing your system to act up. Doctors can perform skin or blood tests to help you get to the bottom of what exactly is setting off your allergic asthma. It’s also a good idea to keep a diary of anything that makes your asthma symptoms worse. This can be a huge help in figuring out your triggers.History is the most important tool to diagnosing allergic asthma. “A lot of it is talking to the patient and trying to understand what their symptoms have been, the environment, and their risk factors going all the way back to when they were in their mom’s uterus, believe it or not, through childhood, and into adulthood,” says Dr. Bose. “A lot of those things are important for creating the foundation for diagnosis. But we also have different types of breathing tests that can be useful in diagnosing asthma.”Those tests can include:A spirometry test that diagnoses asthma severity and measures how well treatment is working.A fractional exhaled nitric oxide test that measures how much inflammation you have in your lungs.Peak expiratory flow tests that measure how fast you can blow out air using maximum effort.

Could Your Allergies Actually Be Causing a Type of Asthma?

Could Your Allergies Actually Be Causing a Type of Asthma?

If you live with asthma, you probably know your personal triggers (looking at you, Rover), but if you don’t, it’s easy to think of asthma as a single condition. While it’s true that what’s happening in the lungs is the same no matter what type of asthma you have, asthma is actually an umbrella terms for a number of specific diagnoses.1“The different types of asthma are linked to the trigger,” Neeta Ogden, M.D., an asthma specialist and immunologist in New York City, tells SELF. “Some people have allergic asthma, for example. It occurs when they’re exposed to their allergy triggers, such as spring pollen or fall ragweed,” she explains. For others, asthma is a year-round condition that isn’t necessarily tied to just one allergic trigger, but may flare during times of stress or extreme weather.However, the different types of asthma all follow the same general process. Your airways—the tubes that extend between your nose and mouth to your lungs—get inflamed in response to triggers, and the swelling can cause the surrounding muscles to tighten, restricting the amount of air you’re able to take in. Your airways may also create more mucus than they usually do, making it even harder to breathe, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.So, what are the different types of asthma?Although they all have that same overarching M.O., they can each flare up for different reasons. Here are a few surprising types of asthma to keep on your radar:Allergic asthmaAlthough asthma can be triggered by any number of things, allergies are the most common. According to a study published in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology,2 75% of adults with asthma between the ages of 20 to 40 have at least one allergy. With allergy-induced asthma, your symptoms are most often triggered by inhaling allergens like dust mites, pet dander, mold, or pollen.With allergic asthma, you may be able to reduce your lung’s reaction to allergens with immunotherapy, most commonly known as allergy shots. This involves exposing your body to the allergen in incrementally higher doses to desensitize your immune system, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI).Non-allergic asthmaUnsurprisingly, this type of asthma is triggered by things other than allergies, which can include extreme weather, exercise, respiratory infections, and stress. Other possible triggers include irritants in the air, like smoke, and certain medications and food additives, such as sulfites, which are food preservatives, according to the Cleveland Clinic.This type of asthma can be a bit more challenging to diagnose, since triggers aren’t as obvious, but you’ll likely still be referred to an allergist to rule out allergic triggers first, per the ACAAI.Exercise-induced asthmaIt’s one thing to have so-called “regular” asthma and find yourself huffing and puffing your way through spin class. But if you struggle with asthma only during any other heart-thumping aerobic exercise, you may have exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, which is just a fancy way to say exercise-induced asthma, according to the ACAAI. That’s especially true if your asthma symptoms kick in within a few minutes after you start exercising and continue for 10 or 15 minutes after you finish your workout.

COPD vs. Asthma: What’s the Difference Between These Lung Conditions?

COPD vs. Asthma: What’s the Difference Between These Lung Conditions?

A high-pitched whistling sound when you breathe is the first tip-off that air is fighting to make its way into or out of your lungs. That sound is aptly named wheezing, and it is something that people with lung conditions—like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)—have to deal with on a regular basis. But how can you tell which is to blame for your labored breathing? Asthma and COPD sound similar, but they have fundamental differences when it comes to symptoms, causes, and treatment—here’s everything you need to know.What is asthma?Asthma is a chronic lung disease and symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening, according to the American Lung Association. With asthma, the two bronchial tubes responsible for carrying air into and out of your lungs are inflamed and narrowed. When something like pet dander, pollen, dust mites, or mold triggers your asthma symptoms, these airways become even more swollen, and the muscles surrounding them constrict and spasm. No surprise, this makes it difficult to breathe. Because there isn’t a cure, treatment is focused on keeping symptoms under control so they don’t severely impact a person’s quality of life.What is COPD?COPD, the umbrella term for a group of conditions—emphysema and chronic bronchitis, among them—causes airflow blockage and breathing-related problems, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).Similar to asthma, with chronic bronchitis, the bronchial tubes become inflamed, but for different reasons. Instead of, say, Fluffy the cat triggering inflammation, it’s most often due to long-term exposure to things like smoke. Other defining features of chronic bronchitis include a cough that you just can’t get rid of and excessive mucus, according to the U.S. Library of Medicine.Emphysema, which often goes hand-in-hand with chronic bronchitis, destroys the air sacs at the end of the tiny air passages in the lungs. This, too, is the result of exposure to cigarette smoke and other irritating particles or gasses, according to the Mayo Clinic.So, what is the main difference between asthma and COPD?There’s, unfortunately, no way to prevent asthma, but that’s not the case with COPD. For 85 to 90% of people with COPD, cigarette smoking is the culprit.“COPD is very much linked to a history of smoking, whereas asthma is not,” Neeta Ogden, M.D., an asthma specialist and immunologist in New York City, and a member of the Medical Scientific Council of Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, tells SELF. “People with asthma will often say they have never touched a cigarette and avoid smoke as much as possible.”With that said, long-term exposure to other lung irritants like chemical fumes and air pollution also play a role in COPD, according to the American Lung Association.Another big difference: Chronic bronchitis, a type of COPD, classically presents with a chronic cough that lasts for months, which isn’t always the case with asthma, Dr. Ogden says. If you’re still not sure which one you’re dealing with, ask yourself this: Do you experience wheezing and chest tightness more at night? Or do you also deal with allergies, like hay fever, or eczema? Then asthma is likely your answer, per National Jewish Health.

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