If you’re among the 27 million North Americans with asthma, chances are it’s triggered by allergies to airborne irritants in your environment (a whopping 75 percent of adults with sensitive airways have allergic asthma).
Unfortunately, only 25 percent of people with asthma know what they’re allergic to and how to avoid the triggers that make their airways constrict, swell and clog up with mucus. That may be why more than half of all PWA (people with asthma) have at least one asthma attack each year — and why that scary “I can’t breathe” feeling sends a half-million folks to the emergency room annually (and, we hate to add, needlessly kills thousands).
Clearly, if you have allergic asthma, identifying and avoiding your triggers, and setting up a smart asthma treatment plan, could be a lifesaver.
The allergens that are the most common wheezemakers include pollen (especially grass pollen), dust mites, mold, household pests like cockroaches and pets of all kinds. So you want to get hip to the asthma triggers and start hunting for your hazards. Here’s how to become an allergy sleuth.
No. 1: Write down the facts, and nuthin’ but the facts. Your doc can give you an allergy scratch test to ID some culprits, and then you can keep a daily diary recording where you’ve been, what you’ve done and how your breathing feels. You’ll see patterns that might surprise you. Ask yourself: Was I outdoors on a high-pollen day? Did I change bed linens (dust mites thrive in bedding)? Did I vacuum the rug my dog sleeps on or visit a friend who has cats? Did I repot plants or work around damp, wet areas? Look for trends and discover situations that seem to consistently trigger an attack. One tip: Even if you have allergic asthma, nonallergy triggers like cigarette smoke, cold air and exercise also can cause you trouble.
No. 2: Update (or set up) your asthma action plan. This asthma action and control plan, designed by you and your doctor, includes specifics on using a peak flow meter to check lung function, sets up a routine for taking your controller medications, outlines when to use a quick-relief (rescue) medicine such as an inhaler, and explains how to recognize signs of worsening asthma quickly and when it’s time to get to a hospital or call 911. A good plan also covers the best ways to sidestep triggers.
No. 3: Reduce your allergic reactions: Ask your doctor if you need allergy medications or immunotherapy treatment to lessen allergic reactions. A new study in The Journal of the American Medical Association says you don’t necessarily need to get allergy shots to lessen allergic reactions. Self-administered daily drops under the tongue, also called sublingual therapy, work just as well! (Their case hasn’t been proven to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration yet, but they’ve been doing it in Europe for years.)
No. 4: Sidestep triggers: Pay attention to local pollen reports (find yours on TV or online at pollen.com), and stay indoors when counts are highest early morning to midday. Run the air conditioner during high-pollen periods, and shower when you come indoors to remove sticky pollen from your skin and hair.
Keep animal friends out of the bedroom. Wash your pet weekly — or have someone else do it. Put impermeable, allergen-proof covers (the best have a pore size of 1 micron) on mattresses, box springs and pillows so you’re not exposed to dust mite droppings (that’s what the trigger is, not the mites themselves). Wash sheets and bedding weekly in hot water of at least 130-140 degrees. Remove all rugs from your bedroom (pet dander and those dead skin cells that dust mites love to munch stay in rugs). And use washable window treatments.
Fix leaky faucets and moisture problems in and around your house. Use dehumidifiers. Get help keeping mold-prone areas like bathrooms clean and disinfected. Cover trash and keep counters and floors free of food and grease to minimize the chance of cockroaches and other pests.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic.