With spring in full swing, flowers are in bloom and warmer weather heralds the coming of summer.
This means getting back to activities such as sports, outdoor celebrations, and barbecues.
But for millions of Americans, this time of year is not so pleasant, and spring means one thing: seasonal allergies.
For some, allergies may be a minor inconvenience characterized by short bouts of sneezing, watery eyes, or runny noses. For others, allergies can be a serious and life-threatening condition, with severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) responsible for 90,000 emergency room visits each year.
National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month
Since 1984, May has been designated National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).
With 65 million Americans or 20 percent of the US population suffering from asthma and allergies, these chronic conditions are a challenge to manage for both patients and providers.
Here are some key statistics from the AAFA:
- 25 million people have asthma
- 24 million experience hay fever or nasal allergies
- 32 million suffer from food allergies
What are Allergies?
Allergies are triggered by a reaction of the immune system to foreign substances such as pollen, dander, or certain foods that can cause reactions such as inflammation. Allergies have no cure but can be managed and treated.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a condition that causes swelling or narrowing of the airways resulting in breathing difficulty, coughing, and shortness of breath. Asthma can be from an allergic or non-allergic reaction. Like allergies, there is no cure for asthma. And, like allergies, treatment and management of symptoms are crucial in dealing with the illness.
How are Allergies and Asthma-Related?
Both allergies and asthma symptoms may overlap and both cause difficulty breathing. Both can be triggered by pollen, dust, and mold.
What Can Patients Do?The American Lung Association has some great tips on how to prevent asthma and allergic outbreaks:
- Check air quality where you live. Be aware of potential triggers. Natural contaminants such as pollen or pollution such as ozone, dust or smoke can trigger allergic reactions or asthma attacks. A useful tool that measures the air quality index in your area can be found at https://www.airnow.gov/.
- Check the pollen forecast. A national allergy map is available at https://www.pollen.com/.
- Identify your triggers through a test for common allergens. These can be either a blood test or a skin prick test.
- Be aware of pesticides or bug repellants that may trigger asthma. Even natural methods such as citronella or seemingly safe bug sprays may trigger asthma. People who are allergic to pesticides might have to consider avoiding the use of pesticides and strong-smelling repellents.
- Use a peak flow meter if you have asthma. Being aware of your condition before going outdoors can mean the difference between keeping your asthma in control and going to the emergency room.
- Be proactive by having an asthma action plan. A discussion with your provider that includes triggers and steps to take in case of an emergency is crucial.
Common Errors in Allergy and Asthma Management
Allergy sufferers commonly make mistakes that prevent them from successfully managing their symptoms. These errors can include waiting too long after allergy symptoms manifest to treat them, not being aware of specific allergy triggers, and failing to avoid allergy triggers.
For asthma patients, it is all about adherence.
While many asthma patients may believe they are using their inhalers correctly, data collected between 1975 and 2014 from 54,000 test subjects who used metered-dose inhalers (MDIs), or dry powder inhalers (DPIs), showed that users were using the devices incorrectly or were using poor inhaler technique.
The study revealed that common patient errors included:
- A lack of post-inhalation breath holding
- Speed or depth inspiration errors
- A lack of full expiration before inhalation
How Can a Pharmacist Help?
There is no cure for allergies, so treatment and management of symptoms are key. Likewise, asthma cannot be cured, but its symptoms can be managed.
As the most visible and accessible health care providers in the community, independent pharmacists are in a unique position to give their patients the care they need to manage their symptoms.
Pharmacists can also help patients with allergies by working with physicians to prescribe OTC or prescription medications that do not interfere with medications the patient is currently taking.
Pharmacists can assess patient adherence and inhaler technique through observation and education during patient counseling sessions.
For patients with more serious allergic reactions, a discussion on proper use of an epinephrine pen may be lifesaving.
For more comprehensive information on these conditions, visit the Asthma and Allergy Awareness webpage here: https://www.aafa.org/asthma-and-allergy-awareness-month/