On their morning run, many people breathe in the sweet smell of spring in the air and smile, but for those who suffer from seasonal allergies and asthma, blooming flowers and higher pollen counts can be anything but stress reducing.
We sat down with Chandra Maloney, MD, a family medicine and sports medicine physician at Swedish, and discussed how allergies and asthma impact physical fitness as well as how people can combat their symptoms during allergy season so that they can work out year-round.
How are allergies and asthma connected and what makes fitness during spring time so challenging for people who suffer from both?
Asthma and allergies often occur together. The same substances that trigger hay fever (also known as allergic rhinitis) such as pollen, dust mites and pet dander might also cause asthma symptoms. When you have an allergy, your body will mistakenly identify a specific substance as harmful and release antibodies known as IgE against the culprit allergens. The next time you encounter that allergen, your IgE antibodies detect it and direct your immune system to release histamine and other chemical compounds into your bloodstream. These can cause unpleasant symptoms such as: sneezing, itching of the nose, eyes, ears, or roof of mouth, runny and stuffy nose, and watery, red eyes (also known as allergic conjunctivitis). In contrast, asthma symptoms are related to inflammation in the lungs and include shortness of breath, chest tightness or pain, trouble sleeping caused by coughing, wheezing or a whistling sound when you exhale.
What are typical triggers for people with asthma?
Asthma triggers are different from person to person, and it is important to identify your triggers to be able to minimize your symptoms.
Asthma triggers to look out for include:
- Airborne substances (pollen, pet dander, mold spores, dust mites, or particles of cockroach waste)
- Respiratory infections (common cold)
- Physical activity (also known as exercise-induced bronchoconstriction)
- Cold air
- Chlorine from swimming pools
- Air pollutants (smoke)
What are typical triggers for people with hay fever?
Hay fever triggers can vary based on time of year. Some people will notice that they only have hay fever during certain times of year. If you pay attention to the symptoms you have and when you have them, it may help you determine what the causes are.
Common hay fever triggers include:
- Early Spring – tree pollen
- Late Spring/Summer – grass pollen
- Fall – ragweed pollen
- All year-round – pet dander, mold spores, dust mites or particles of cockroach waste. These symptoms can be worse in the winter when houses are closed up.
What are specific ways that adults and kids who have asthma can combat these issues so that they can still be active outdoors?
There are behavioral measures that you can take to prevent exercise-induced bronchoconstriction:
- Practice a ten-minute warm-up that varies in intensity before your regular exercise.
- Breathe through the nose to allow it to warm and humidify the air before it enters the lungs.
- In cold or dry weather, consider wearing a mask or scarf when exercising.
- Try not to exercise outside when pollen counts are high, specifically in the early morning time when pollen counts tend to be higher.
- Avoid strenuous exercise when you have a cold or respiratory infection.
- Stay in good shape, as this promotes good respiratory health overall.
The most common medicine that you can use before exercise is a short-acting beta agonist, like albuterol, to try to decrease the symptoms and keep the airways open, which would be directed by one’s doctor.
What are specific ways that adults and kids who have allergies can combat these issues so that they can still be active outdoors?
Hay Fever prevention:
- Workout inside if you are having hay fever symptoms.
- Keep your car and house windows closed and consider using air conditioning instead.
- Take a bath or shower before bed to rinse the pollen off the skin and hair.
- Use a specific vacuum that contains a HEPA filter that can keep indoor air as clean as possible.
It is helpful to start most hay fever medications a couple of weeks before you suspect your allergies will begin. You may need to try a few different brands of medication to find the best fit. The most common medicine to use if you have a runny, itchy nose is a nasal steroid that is available over the counter. Other common medicines are antihistamine medicines that can be non-drowsy so that you can take them during the daytime.
How should parents handle coaches or teachers who will be guiding their children’s outdoor activity?
Parents can speak with their doctor about writing an action plan in the event their child experiences exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. A good action plan provides step-by-step instructions for teachers, nurses and coaches that explains what treatment your child needs, when they should be administered and what to do if your child experiences symptoms. Coming in with a plan gives you the peace of mind that comes with being knowledgeable and organized and creates a better exercise experience for your child.
Why is it important for people with these conditions to continue to try and get outside?
I am a big advocate for people getting outside and engaging in physical activity. There are many mental and physical benefits from spending time outdoors; however, the benefits need to be weighed against the risk of exacerbating seasonal allergy symptoms or asthma. At times, people may have to modify where they exercise, take medications, and participate in some of the behavioral measures mentioned earlier in order to prevent symptoms from flaring up.
If you believe hay fever or asthma could be something you or a loved one could is experiencing, I recommend speaking with your primary care provider. If your symptoms are mild, your doctor may teach you how to deal with them and discuss some of the medications that can help control your symptoms. If symptoms are more severe, your doctor may refer you to an allergy or lung specialist.
Find a Swedish physician that’s right for you and your family. Learn more about some of the Swedish services and providers that diagnose and treat allergies and asthma:
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.