When summer rolls around, many of us look forward to taking vacations and relaxing poolside. But for some of the millions of Americans who suffer from asthma, the rising temperatures and longer days signal a time to be on guard and prepared for potential asthma triggers.
Asthma is a disease that causes the airways of the lungs to swell and narrow, leading to wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and coughing.
“Asthma is serious and can even be fatal on occasion,” said Guha Krishnaswamy, professor of pulmonary, critical care, allergy and immunologic medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, “It is a disease not to be taken lightly.”
Krishnaswamy offers the following tips to help asthma sufferers breathe better this summer:
Know your triggers: Understanding what causes your asthma symptoms is a crucial step to preventing them. Some people’s asthma symptoms are triggered by an allergic reaction, some asthmatics experience a reaction during exercise, and others may react to certain medications, infections or heartburn. Different types of asthma call for different treatments, and an asthma specialist can help you learn how to manage yours.
Steer clear of chemical irritants: The smell of chlorine and household products such as cleaners and air fresheners can aggravate the airways and cause an asthma flare-up. Opt for swimming in outdoor pools, which have better air circulation than indoor pools, and wear a surgical mask when cleaning.
Eat s’mores, not smoke: Campfire smoke can exacerbate asthma, but that doesn’t mean that asthmatics can’t enjoy bonfire activities like roasting marshmallows. To help prevent an asthma attack, be sure to sit upwind of the smoke.
Check the weather and air quality index: Dramatic changes in temperature; windy weather and thunderstorms that stir up pollen and mold; air pollution; and hot, humid air can all irritate the airways. Try to avoid the outdoors if the forecast, air quality index or allergy count isn’t in your favor.
Keep an inhaler close by: If your asthma is triggered by an allergen, use your prescribed inhaler as soon as you notice the symptoms. Seek medical help if the symptoms don’t subside. If your asthma is exercise-induced, use your prescribed inhaler 10 minutes before you exercise. Also, a warm up may help decrease wheezing.
Develop an asthma action plan: Build a plan with your doctor that explains when it is appropriate to self-treat the disease and when you should go to the hospital.
“Everyone’s asthma is a little bit different,” Krishnaswamy said. “For those who are particularly sensitive during the summer months, the season may tend to drag on. But with a few tweaks to your normal routine, summer will breeze by.”