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Asthma in the Fall

Autumn can be a challenging time of year for school-aged children and adults with allergies and asthma. Emergency room visits increase significantly in the fall due to asthma attacks. This phenomenon is likely due to fall allergens, cooler temperatures, and an increase in viral infections as children return to school. Learning about triggers and managing asthma can help prevent emergency room visits and allow patients and their families to enjoy the fall season.

How do allergens affect asthma?

Approximately 60% of patients with asthma have allergic asthma, and in children, this number is closer to 80%. This means that environmental allergens not only cause a runny nose, sneezing, and eye itching, but can also trigger shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing in individuals with allergic asthma.  An allergen is typically a harmless substance such as dust mites, pollen, or mold. However, for those allergic to one of these substances, it triggers a response in your immune system. These allergens affect the passages in the airways of the lungs to become inflamed or swollen, resulting in asthma symptoms.

Which allergens commonly cause problems in the fall? 

  • Ragweed Pollen:
    • Levels of ragweed and other weed pollens increase in late summer and peak during the fall. This pollen is wind-borne and often worse on warm, windy days.
  • Mold:
    • Although mold can be a year-round problem, levels tend to rise during the fall. Outdoor molds, such as Alternaria, Cladosporium, and Aspergillus, are common types of molds that trigger allergies and asthma. Mold is often found in damp areas, such as piles of leaves and vegetation.

How do I know which allergens affect my asthma?

TPMG Coastal Allergy provides in-office skin testing, which can determine allergy and asthma triggers.  Allergy skin tests offer same-day results and tell you exactly which allergens (such as ragweed or mold) are causing your symptoms. This information is essential to create a personalized approach for avoiding triggers and treating your asthma.

How do viral infections and temperature changes affect asthma?

As kids return to school, they are exposed to far more respiratory viruses in the classroom while around other children. These viral infections can cause respiratory symptoms that last longer and are more severe in kids with asthma.

Temperature swings and cold air also cause airway tightening in patients with asthma.  This acute reaction can cause shortness of breath and cough.

What are some asthma symptoms?

  • Wheezing
  • Dry cough
  • Shortness of breath, often worse with activity
  • Night-time cough
  • Chest tightness, or difficulty taking a deep breath

How do I manage asthma in the fall?

Know your triggers

  • Get allergy skin testing
  • Learn about triggers and ways to reduce your exposure

Maintain control of your asthma

  • Take your allergy and asthma medications as prescribed
    • If you have been prescribed an emergency inhaler such as albuterol, always carry it with you.
  • See your provider and know your Asthma Action Plan to avoid ER visits

Wash your hands!

  • Most viruses spread through contact with infected hands
  • Teaching kids to wash their hands regularly can help prevent the spread of infection both at home and at school

Are there alternative options to avoid fall allergies and asthma attacks?

Allergy shots are a gradual treatment option that can eliminate allergies over time. This treatment will reduce asthma symptoms and the use of asthma/allergy medications. Research has also shown that allergy shots can prevent the onset of asthma in allergic individuals.

Allergy Specialist

About Christina F. Ortiz, MD, MPH

Christina F. Ortiz, MD, MPH, is trained to diagnose and treat allergic asthma in both children and adults. She is board certified in Pediatrics and Allergy and Immunology.  As an allergy specialist, Dr. Ortiz treats a variety of allergic conditions including seasonal and indoor allergies, asthma, eczema, medication and food allergies, and sinusitis. She also provides immunotherapy (or allergy shots) in the clinic, which reduces your symptoms over time so that you feel better and breathe easier.

Dr. Ortiz practices at TPMG Coastal Allergy in Chesapeake. Please check with your insurance to see if you need a referral before visiting an allergist.

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