Breathe Easy

When seasons change allergies and asthma can flare up

Allergies and asthma are commonly intertwined—for example, allergies can trigger an asthma attack and many asthmatics have both
conditions. While neither can be “cured” they can certainly be managed for an active lifestyle.

Allergies

“People aren’t born with allergies but they may be born with the genetic machinery,” says Reid Olson, allergist/immunologist at Dean Clinic. “We don’t know the trigger, what the switch is, when people go from being ‘normal’ to being allergic to something.”

Tim Ballweg, asthma educator with Group Health Cooperative, says there’s been an uptick in allergies and asthma—and he has a few theories why. “We do know that the environment is changing,” he says. “One factor is air quality and pollution, which affects those with asthma. Research has also looked at the fact that kids are in a cleaner environment, homes are less dirty and they’re sealed much tighter so there’s not as much fresh air moving around, and it may not be stimulating the immune system to form antibodies against these things.”

Unfortunately allergy sufferers may deal with them year-round. For example, Olson says April is tree pollen season—June brings grass pollen, late summer is weed pollen and cooler weather means indoor dust and dander irritants.

Fortunately, there are several ways to manage allergies. Non-drowsy antihistamines (like Claritin and Zyrtec), eye drops and neti pots (a salt water rinse for the nasal passages) are all over-the-counter solutions. Olson recommends checking daily pollen counts online and on particularly bad days closing windows and avoiding outdoor exposure. Also keep pets out of the bedroom and purchase dust mite covers for mattresses and pillows.

Asthma

“[With] asthma, the airway is reacting to allergens that are present, causing the airway to swell, get narrower and restrict airflow,” explains Olson. “It’s an inflammation of the lower airways or lining of the lungs.”

Ballweg says close to eighty percent of children with allergies have asthma; however, onset can come at any age. Besides allergies asthma triggers include cold air, colds, sinus infections, exercise, smoke, humidity and odors. Like allergies, asthma is a chronic condition that can be managed by avoiding aggravators and using quick relievers (inhalants) and controller/preventative medications (inhalers and dry power devices).

“Patients [need to] learn and accept the fact that they can prevent future attacks with medicine,” say Ballweg. “Our ultimate goal is to develop a plan for them to use at work or school.”

The takeaway? Seek medical attention if allergies or asthma are affecting your quality of life.

Quick Read: Camp Champs

Remember how cool summer camp could be? The Wisconsin Dells-based Camp Wikidas is cool for kids ages 8–13, with one major difference: it’s for youth with chronic asthma.

“When I started in this field I saw the impact that asthma has on a child,” says Brent Kooistra, Dean Clinic allergist and camp founder/medical director. “They often feel different, need to take medication, have difficulty socializing with other children and often wonder, ‘Why do I have this condition?’”

Kids statewide join Kooistra and his trained staff of allergists, nurses, respiratory therapists and pharmacists in learning how to manage their asthma and its challenges. The program has all the regular standbys—basketball, canoeing, rope courses and more.

“We can now host up to 90 children and we’ve seen the growth of self-esteem and confidence that comes with being with other children that have asthma.”

For 2010: June 20–25. lungwi.org (click on “asthma programs”) or 262-703-4200.

Shayna Miller is associate editor of Madison Magazine.

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