There are many different triggers for asthma attacks and most asthmatics are well aware of their trigger points, although they may not always be able to avoid them.
Pollen and pollution are increasingly responsible for triggering asthma and many people find a worsening of their symptoms in spring combined with the onset of hay fever.
Hay fever and asthma
Hay fever can increase your risk of an asthma attack. In fact 80% of asthma sufferers say hay fever triggers their asthma symptoms.
This is because hay fever causes your already inflamed airways to swell up even further, leaving you breathless. Plus your increasingly inflamed and sensitised airways are more likely to react to further triggers.
Hay fever and histamine
For many people with asthma, the release of histamine triggered by hay fever can increase their asthma symptoms. Therefore, hay fever can increase asthma symptoms or trigger an asthma attack in asthma sufferers.
Key steps to reduce the likelihood of an attack:
Take your asthma medication
If you are asthmatic and have a pollen allergy, ensure you have your asthma medication with you at all times. Particularly your blue reliever inhaler.
But also take your hay fever medicine
Research has shown that asthma sufferers who also have hay fever can significantly reduce their risk of needing to go to A&E if they treat their hay fever effectively.
Antihistamines will reduce your sensitivity to the histamine released by your body in response to the pollen.
If you are taking Fexofenadine ensure you are not taking them with orange juice or grapefruit as this can dramatically reduce the efficacy of your medication.
Read our full article on how grapefruit affects your medication here: https://onlinefirstaid.com/grapefruit-danger/
Some antihistamine medications become less effective after continued use. If one antihistamine is not working for you, speak with your pharmacist and try alternatives to see if others work better.
Be careful taking antihistamines that can cause drowsiness.
Many of the same antihistamine medication is marketed by different drug companies, look carefully at the generic name of the medication and you may find it is possible to buy the identical medication much cheaper as a generic brand. Ask your pharmacist to help and advise.
When does hay fever season start?
People can begin to suffer from hay fever as pollen is released from trees as early as February, birch pollen is often an early culprit and from specific weeds as late as September. There are many species of grasses, trees and weeds in the UK. Some sufferers are particularly sensitive to certain species yet don’t react to others. There is also huge variation around the country as to when pollen is released. Plus our very changeable weather means it is hard to predict when pollen season starts. However, as a general guide:
Grass pollens are the most common cause of hay fever, being the trigger for 95% of people’s hay fever. It usually affects people in May, June and July.
Birch tree pollen about 20% of people with hay fever are allergic to birch tree pollen and this as well as oak and plane trees, are responsible for many unpleasant symptoms and can exacerbate asthma.
Weed pollens such as nettles and docks usually release pollen from early spring to early autumn.
Working our your pollen triggers
To work out which pollen sets off your hay fever, make a note of any days when your symptoms are bad. Then you can use a pollen calendar to work out which pollen you are allergic to and find out when it is released. Look at the pollen chart here:
If you already know which pollen triggers you?
If you know pollen is a trigger for your asthma, speak to your GP or asthma nurse who can give additional support and advice to help you manage your asthma at this time.
Alcohol may make your symptoms worse
Alcohol contains histamine that is also released as part of the body’s reaction to allergies. It is therefore strongly suggested that alcohol can increase the sensitivity of the body to pollen and other allergens. It is advisable to avoid alcohol if you have a prone to allergic reactions or are asthmatic. Particularly if you are experiencing a worsening of your asthma or hay fever.
Prepare for pollen season
If you regularly get hay fever, start taking antihistamines up to four weeks before you normally get symptoms.
Remember a steroid nasal spray can take up to two weeks to start working, so start using it before your personal pollen trigger is released.
How can you treat a pollen allergy?
The best treatment is to avoid the allergen, but pollen is extremely difficult to avoid. To reduce your exposure to pollen you can:
- stay indoors on dry, windy days
- ask others do the gardening during peak pollen seasons
- keep doors and windows closed when you know pollen counts are due to be high
Simple steps to cut your asthma risk
Take these 3 simple steps to cut your asthma risk when you have hay fever
- Carry your reliever inhaler every day
Reliever inhalers ease your symptoms on the spot – but only for a short period of time. For long term control, use your preventer inhaler to dampen the responsiveness of your airways to allergies.
- Take your preventer inhaler as prescribed
Preventer inhalers reduce sensitivity and swelling in your airways, reducing the incidence of wheezing and coughing. Take it consistently to get the most effective results.
- Treat hay fever symptoms take hay fever medication, including nasal steroids, anti-histamines or anti-inflammatory eye-drops.
Finding the right treatment for you
There are plenty of different options to treat hay fever but you need to find ones that suit you. Talk to your GP, asthma nurses or ask your pharmacist.
If you have hay fever and asthma and begin to feel:
- coughing more than usual
- that you need to use your reliever inhaler three times a week or more
it could be that the hay fever is making your asthma unstable. Talk to your asthma nurse or GP as soon as possible.
Start treatment quickly to get on top of your symptoms and reduce your risk of an asthma attack and seek further medical advice.
Read our article on Asthma and why spring can make it harder to control here: https://onlinefirstaid.com/asthma-why-spring-harder-control/
Written by Emma Hammett for First Aid for Life
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