The best defense is a good offense.

When we think of springtime in Western Washington we think of delicate cherry blossoms, cheerful tulips and, unfortunately, allergy season.  In May, pollen from trees and grass is released into the air at the same time, making it peak season for people with allergies and/or asthma to experience symptoms.

Although there is no cure for asthma and allergies, many people are able to take care of symptoms with proper treatment and care.

Seasonal allergies

If you have itchy eyes, a runny nose, coughing, sneezing and trouble concentrating, you are probably one of the more than 50 million Americans with seasonal allergies.

Allergies occur when your immune system (your body’s way of protecting against germs and diseases) reacts to something in the environment that does not bother most people. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology has found that the rate of allergy diagnosis in the United States is increasing. The cause might be that children are not being exposed to enough germs to train their immune systems to tell the difference between good and bad germs.

Other tips for preventing allergy issues:

  • If you plan to spend a day outdoors, and you have allergy medication, take it before you go outside, maybe even the night before.
  • Stay indoors after it rains. Unfortunately for Seattleites, pollen increases after rainfall.
  • Avoid being outside when pollen levels are at their highest. In spring and summer, levels are highest in the evening. In late summer and early fall, levels are highest in the morning.
  • Keep your eye on the daily pollen report. Most news channels, radio stations, web sites and newspapers will provide daily updates on pollen levels.

Asthma

If you have asthma, you are not alone. Asthma affects more than 25 million Americans and more than 6 million children under the age of 18.

Asthma is a medical condition in which the airways in the lungs become swollen and make extra mucus (the sticky stuff we sneeze or cough up), making it hard to breath. Symptoms of asthma include coughing, wheezing, tightness in the chest and shortness of breath. For most people asthma is not a big problem.  For others it is a major health condition that may lead to a life-threatening asthma attack. Although there is no known way to prevent or cure asthma, the symptoms can be controlled with treatment.

Like allergies, the best way to control asthma is to plan ahead. If you have or think you may have asthma, it is important that you see a doctor before your symptoms get worse. Asthma is often treated with two types of prescription medication— quick-relief medicine for asthma attacks and long-term control medicine to help you have fewer and milder attacks.

Establishing a long-term relationship with a primary medical care provider is another important part of living with asthma. See your primary care provider regularly so they can get to know you and your medical history. Together, you and your doctor can control your symptoms, prevent asthma attacks and adjust your treatment plan if symptoms change or get worse.

More tips for controlling your asthma:

  • Follow the step-by-step asthma plan set up by your health care team in your daily life.
  • Get vaccinated for influenza (flu) and pneumonia.Staying current with vaccinations can prevent flu and pneumonia from triggering asthma flare-ups.
  • Find out what causes or worsens your asthma, and take steps to avoid them. These could be pollen, mold, cold air, perfume or air pollution.
  • Learn to recognize the warning signs of an asthma attack, such as slight coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath. Act quickly to prevent a major attack.
  • Take your medication as prescribed. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you do not understand how to take your medication.
  • Pay attention to how much you are using the quick-relief inhaler.If you are using it often, talk to your doctor about different treatments.
  • Get regular exercise to strengthen your heart and lungs, and maintain a healthy weight.