Seasonal Allergies and Asthma

Meredith Porter, MD is a board certified family physician with 23 years of clinical experience and a lead physician for Inova Urgent Care. Inova Urgent Care centers are open seven days a week – including holidays, except Christmas Day – and treat walk-in patients of all ages. Select centers offer specialized pediatric care where staff is cross-trained in pediatric emergency medicine. Learn more about Inova Children’s Urgent Care services.

Many people suffer from both seasonal allergies (allergic rhinitis) and asthma.  Asthma is a chronic condition that affects the airways – or, breathing tubes – of the lungs.  With asthma, the airways become inflamed, swollen and narrowed, making it difficult to move air in and out of the lungs.  Allergic rhinitis can worsen breathing problems for people with asthma. 

What are common symptoms and triggers for asthma?

Inhaling allergens, pollen and chemicals can trigger asthma symptoms.  Asthma may also worsen with extreme weather changes, respiratory infections, stress, exercise or exposure to smoke.   Common symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Cough
  • Wheezing (whistling or squeaking sound)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness
  • Decreased ability to exercise

It is important to know the signs of severe symptoms, also known as an “asthma attack.”  During a severe episode, people can breathe very fast and have difficulty speaking.   Coughing, wheezing and chest tightness can make people feel anxious or scared.   If these symptoms are present, one should seek immediate emergency care.

How is asthma diagnosed?

Asthma can be diagnosed by your primary care provider who will review your symptoms and medical history and physical exam.  You could be sent to a specialist for a lung function testing (known as spirometry or pulmonary function test).  Sometimes, skin or blood testing is also done to look for allergens.

How is asthma treated? 

For people diagnosed with asthma, it is important that you and your doctor make a treatment plan, also known as an asthma action plan.  This plan includes triggers to avoid, how to monitor symptoms and medication use.  Regular doctor visits, healthy eating and exercise can help you to stay healthy.   Yearly flu shots and pneumonia vaccine when recommended by your doctor can prevent flu and pneumonia.

Medications can improve asthma symptoms by keeping airways open and reducing swelling to allow air to move in and out of lungs more easily.  Asthma treatment options can include:

  • Keep a daily symptom diary to help avoid asthma triggers
  • Allergy medicines as needed
  • Daily prescription oral medicines (Leukotriene inhibitors or LTRAs)
  • Inhalers. There are two types of inhalers: quick- and long-acting. 
  • Long-acting or “preventive” inhalers are used regularly to keep airways open over time. They may contain inhaled steroids and a long-acting bronchodilator which relaxes the muscles that tighten around the airways. 
  • Quick-acting or “rescue” inhalers are used for acute symptoms according to your action plan. They should be kept readily available at all times. Bronchodilators quickly relax the muscles that tighten around the airways. 

Inova Urgent Care wishes you a healthy, safe and wonderful spring!  

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