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More than 50 million Americans suffer from allergy and asthma. Many allergy sufferers recognize upper airway allergy symptoms like sneezing, nasal congestion and drainage, and red, itchy, watery eyes. But sufferers may not realize that allergies can also affect the lower airways presenting as a cough, wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. The upper and lower airways are intimately connected. Trouble in one airway can result in issues with the other–this concept is called the “unified airway.” At least one-third of those with seasonal allergies also have asthma. Many of those with asthma will benefit from specific medications for their symptoms.

Pollen allergy sufferers can start to experience intermittent symptoms from tree pollen as early as January and February during a mild winter. The month of March traditionally marks the full onslaught of spring pollen causing more significant allergy symptoms. To control symptoms, stock up on your allergy medications and minimize allergens in your home with some of these tips:

-Scrub-a-dub. Many view spring-cleaning as a way to start fresh each year, but it can be extra helpful in managing symptoms for sufferers of allergies and asthma. Sweeping and wiping down surfaces can help to decrease in-home allergens that have collected over the winter when the home is closed up. Indoor pets will have left extra fur, hair, and dander around the home. Make sure to wash any bedding the pets have been using, as well as pet beds and kennels. Having the air ducts and carpets professionally cleaned may be beneficial as these are reservoirs of allergens. Make sure basements and bathrooms, where molds are more likely to reside, are a part of your cleaning checklist. (Please note: If you experience worsened symptoms while cleaning, use of a mask or respirator can be helpful, or consider having someone help with the cleaning to decrease your exposure.)

-Breathe a breath of fresh air. Choosing the right air filter makes a big difference. A common misconception is that ionic air filters are the best way to clean the air. However, ionic filters change the particle charge of pollen and dander allowing them to stick to whatever they may come in contact with. These filters will also limit airflow in a room, resulting in the particles often settling on walls and other surfaces instead of being filtered out. Ionic air filters also produce ozone, which creates additional issues for those with respiratory disease. The preferred option for cleaning the air is a HEPA room air filter that has a Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) number. The higher the number, the faster the unit cleans the air. For homes with central air, choose a filter with a minimal efficiency reporting value (MERV) between 9 and 12 and change the filter every three months.

-Skip the open door policy. It is tempting to throw open the doors and windows and welcome in the fresh air, but this may worsen allergy symptoms. Pollen will drift into a home through open doors and windows and inevitably end up on carpets, furniture, and other surfaces. If possible, keep the home and car windows shut. Make use of air-conditioning to keep the house or car cool. If you need to open the house, keep the bedroom windows closed to minimize pollen levels and allow for a more friendly sleep environment. You can also refer to a user-friendly resource like “pollen.com” to see which days are higher in pollen counts.

Making sure your symptoms are well controlled will result in better breathing and increased quality of life. If you are having symptoms that are preventing you from fully enjoying life, seek help from a medical professional. Don’t brush off that nagging cough or stuffy nose–there may be ways to identify underlying triggers and the prescription medications that increase symptom control.

About the author

Dr. Nathanael Brady is a board-certified allergy, asthma and immunology physician and is the owner of Pike Peak Allergy & Asthma
Dr. Nathanael Brady

Dr. Nathanael Brady is a board-certified allergy, asthma and immunology physician and is the owner of Pike Peak Allergy & Asthma. He is originally from Michigan, training at Michigan State University, Ohio State University and Case Western University. When not seeing patients, he spends his time wrangling his three young children with his wife Jennifer.

Pikes Peak Allergy & Asthma
595 Chapel Hills Drive, Site 102
Colorado Springs, CO 80920