The summer months can pose unique difficulties for patients with asthma. Throughout early summer, we continue to experience days with high pollen counts from trees and grasses, and there is a well-established connection between allergies and asthma in medical literature. The hottest months of summer routinely bring conditions that exacerbate asthma symptoms such as poor air quality and increased humidity. Finally, during late summer with the appearance of ragweed and mold, the beginning of the new school year carries a unique challenge for children with asthma: There are more asthma-related hospitalizations for children during the second week of school than at any other time in the year. Research suggests that exposure to both allergens and viruses increase the likelihood of hospitalization. So what can patients with asthma do to proactively ensure that symptoms don't interfere with their summer activities?
Although experts generally agree that identifying allergy triggers is essential to managing asthma, there are still great inconsistencies in clinical practice when it comes to definitively identifying triggers and recommending avoidance strategies. Patients can spend a lot of money on products that are unnecessary if they don't know specifically which allergens to target. While taking a complete patient history is always the starting point for allergy management -- and, by extension, asthma management -- more physicians are now recognizing testing as an important next step for developing a truly comprehensive program for each patient. In order to manage their allergy-induced asthma in a holistic fashion, patients need to know the specific triggers causing their symptoms.
There are essentially two allergy testing options. The newer technology is blood testing, which has advanced significantly in recent decades. IgE blood testing, which is cleared by the FDA, requires only a simple blood draw to measure sensitization to many allergens. Traditionally, specialists perform "skin-prick" testing, which has changed very little since it was first introduced more than 100 years ago. While there is some back and forth on the merits of blood testing and skin prick testing, an IgE blood test offers at least one distinct advantage during the height of allergy season: The test can be ordered by a primary care clinician and a patient can continue to take daily medications. The benefit to a patient, who is already coping with seasonal symptoms, is that they don't experience an exacerbation of their symptoms by stopping their medication -- which is a requirement for skin prick testing.
Regardless of the testing method that your doctor recommends, the ultimate goal is to create your unique "allergy profile." This is the first step in managing your specific asthma/allergic condition. With simple steps to decrease exposure to triggers, many patients are able to go for long periods of time without needing their rescue medication. Other patients are able to significantly decrease the dosage of their daily prescription medications. Not only are daily medications expensive and often inconvenient to take, many of them carry an FDA warning for the potential for significant adverse events with prolonged usage.
Asthma symptoms are usually the result of a cumulative exposure to triggers. For patients with asthma, "hidden" triggers are often indoor allergens. This means that someone who has a known allergy to tree pollen and a previously unknown allergy to dust mites can often reduce their need for medications by taking simple steps to reduce the indoor allergen. One clinical study showed that when patients who were allergic to dust mites used covers on their pillows, the dose of daily inhaled steroid medicines was reduced by 50 percent.
What is the first step in order to avoid the asthma challenges posed by summer? Seek out an accurate picture of your unique allergy profile. Allergy testing is now easily accessible, accurate and comprehensive. It may dramatically improve your quality of life, especially when pollen and other allergens, hot summer days and the back-to-school season add up to push patients over their threshold for triggers. Identifying underlying triggers for asthma can make a big difference this summer.
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