It’s the time of year when we see a fine layer of yellow dust on our cars outside, and a lot of us feel cruddy. Dr. Ashley Jerath Tatum, an allergy specialist at Northwest Asthma and Allergy Center, joined KING 5 in studio to share expert advice on what we can do to avoid springtime allergies and uncomfortable symptoms.
Your offices track pollen counts day to day, what's hitting us hard right now?
Spring can be the busiest time of the year in an allergy clinic as patients begin to experience the first symptoms of seasonal allergies, or "hay fever".
Trees are the first plants to pollinate — in the Seattle area, we can measure significant tree pollen levels as early as January. Currently, alder and birch, cottonwood and poplar, and cedar and juniper tree pollens are of importance. Grass pollen will soon become important, with the peak pollen period in the Seattle area being the end of May through end of July. Weed pollen can be important in late summer and fall.
Individuals suffering from allergies can experience a variety of symptoms, including itching in the nose, roof of the mouth, throat, eyes, and ears, sneezing, stuffy nose, runny nose, tearing eyes, dark circles under the eyes, eczematous rashes, and asthma symptoms.
Our temperatures seemed fairly mild, no big lowland snows, but we got our share of rain. How does the weather of the past few months factor into what we are seeing now?
Warmer temperatures allow for an earlier spring pollen season. The amount of pollen in the air can be reduced during rainy, cloudy, or windless periods. That said, even with some wet weather, we have had many days thus far this year with pollen counts measuring in the moderate to very high range.
For your viewers who wish to monitor local pollen counts – they can access data we collect at Northwest Asthma and Allergy Center, a certified pollen counting center, via our website; we also send our data to the National Allergy Bureau.
Are there any practical tips for what we can do to minimize exposure to some of the pollens in the air and keep us feeling better?
Yes, some tips for allergy sufferers:
- Keep windows closed at night to prevent pollen from drifting into your home. Keep your car windows closed while traveling.
- Do not hang items outside to dry, such as sheets, towels, or clothing, as pollen may collect on them.
- Minimize early morning activity when pollen is usually emitted – 5 - 10 a.m.
- Take a shower before bedtime; otherwise, pollen on your hair and skin may bother you all night.
- Keep allergens outside – so after spending time outdoors on a nice day, leave your shoes and gardening gloves outside the door and change your clothing.
- Develop an allergy care plan with your physician. The majority of medications used for hay fever work best if started before pollen is in the air and allergy symptoms have developed.
Do allergies usually get better or worse as we get older? And when breathing issues are involved, at what point is someone diagnosed as having asthma?
Seasonal allergies affect more than 35 million people in the U.S. and may be diagnosed at any age. Both allergies and asthma are on the rise. Symptoms of asthma include coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Common triggers include pollens and other allergens, upper respiratory tract infections, pollution, and exercise.
Pollen-induced symptoms may only occur during times of peak pollen counts or during times of outdoor physical activity during pollen season. A child with asthma may complain that his or her chest "hurts" or "feels funny" during or after physical activity. You may also suspect asthma in a child if he or she is more easily fatigued during exercise (slows down or stops playing) compared with his or her peers or seems to run at a different pace than others or than what seemed to be his or her norm in the past.
What types of activities or exercise should someone avoid, or, alternatively, are there certain ones that people with asthma should do more of?
In exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, commonly known as exercise-induced asthma, the lower airways, or lungs, are very sensitive to cold and dry air and to pollens, even during days of low level pollen counts. Some exercises are easier for people with exercise induced bronchoconstriction.
For instance, swimmers are exposed to warm and moist air as they exercise, which is better accepted by the lower airways than cold and dry air encountered during cross country skiing or ice hockey. Swimming also helps to strengthen upper body muscles. Sports that require short bursts of energy such as golf and baseball are less likely to trigger asthma symptoms than sports that require a lot of ongoing strenuous activity such as soccer or basketball.
Speaking of exercise, an asthma diagnosis does not mean an end to a person's athletic career, does it?
Not at all, with the correct diagnosis and treatment of asthma, individuals should be able to retain normal lung function and enjoy all activities and exercise as others who do not have asthma. Exercise is important and provides many health benefits, especially for people with asthma. It's important for an individual to develop an asthma action plan with his or her physician.
This may require the use of a daily anti-inflammatory medication, such as an inhaled corticosteroid or leukotriene receptor antagonist, either year-round or during specific pollen seasons, to reduce lower airway or lung inflammation and improve exercise tolerance.
With the approval of physicians and parents, school-age children with asthma can have inhalers available in their sports bags or school offices to use prior to exercise to prevent asthma symptoms. Many individuals with asthma can participate and excel in almost any sport or activity.