With warmer weather upon us, triggers like pollen, ragweed, trees, and grass are making life uncomfortable for many Canadians – leaving sufferers with runny noses, itchy eyes, coughs, and difficulty breathing.
It’s estimated that 18 per cent or more than six million Canadians are impacted by allergies — and that’s a huge number. In my practice, I see between five and 10 patients a day with allergy related issues and the impact is significant — allergies often reduce our quality of life and impact our sleep, our cognition, our ability to function at work and school, and enjoy many outdoor activities.
But is there a chance it could be asthma? Certainly, allergies and asthma are inter-related. Seasonal allergies or hay fever are caused by an inappropriate response by the body’s immune system to environmental triggers like grass, weeds or pollen that are interpreted by the body as harmful. This can result in asthma-like symptoms such as coughing and shortness of breath, as some allergens cause airways to become inflamed and tighten. The symptoms are typically felt seasonally in the spring or fall.
The difference is that asthma is a chronic, lifelong inflammatory airway disease. It is not necessarily genetic but can run in families. With asthma, airway linings become inflamed, swollen, and congested, again causing the airways to narrow, and resulting in serious chest tightening, shortness of breath and wheezing. Ongoing, long-term treatment is necessary to manage asthma by suppressing the inflammation.
Can having seasonal allergies lead to asthma?
Seasonal allergies can sometimes lead to asthma or worsen pre-existing asthma symptoms. This is called allergic asthma. When a person with allergic asthma is exposed to an allergen, their immune system overreacts and produces inflammation in the airways.
Not everyone with seasonal allergies will develop allergic asthma, but they are at a higher risk. It’s important to recognize the signs of allergic asthma, such as wheezing and shortness of breath, and seek medical attention if these symptoms occur.
If you have seasonal allergies and are at risk of developing allergic asthma, your doctor may recommend taking medication to prevent asthma symptoms such as inhaled corticosteroids that suppress the inflammation in the airways and can allow you to live free of symptoms.
In my practice, I also recommend patients suffering from allergies or asthma may want to consider using a HEPA air filter in air conditioning units and vacuum cleaners, wear a mask, boost their immune system with a healthy diet, get regular exercise and try to manage stress or stressful situations.
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