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’Tis the season for cold weather allergy and asthma triggers

Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014

Seasonal allergy sufferers may be breathing a collective sigh of relief now that the leaves have fallen and autumn is on its way out, but there are still a few things to keep allergists in business throughout the winter.

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    Dr. Lee Perry of Chattanooga Allergy Clinic helps patients overcome seasonal allergies.

“We’re seeing a resurgence of asthma symptoms with the cold weather, in addition to cold-weather allergens,” said Dr. Lee Perry, allergist at Chattanooga Allergy Clinic. “There lots of different viral illnesses going around that can cause a surge in asthma symptoms.”

For asthmatics, the colder, drier air can be an unwelcome trigger for symptoms. When you inhale cold air, it dries your airway, and rewarming it can cause some people to have spasms in the airway, Perry explained.

Cold air can also make things worse for those who suffer from exercise-induced asthma, he added.

“In these cases there are medications that can be used prior to exercise,” said Perry. “Some people also need albuterol inhalers, and they’re used 15-20 minutes before exercise.”

The viruses swirling around during flu season can also be problematic for asthmatics.

“There are certain viruses that are attracted to the airway, like the rhinovirus — it’s the most common cause of the common cold,” Perry said. “The average person who gets it will probably experience coughing, runny nose, maybe even fever. But somebody with asthma already has a baseline level of inflammation in their airway and lungs, so they have a greater potential to overreact to that virus in such a way that it causes worse respiratory symptoms in them, like wheezing and shortness of breath.”

The severity of the reaction to viruses often depends on how well a person has been managing his or her asthma.

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“Depending on the level of control a person has over their asthma, often, getting a virus like that doesn’t affect them anymore than someone without asthma,” said Perry. “But if their asthma isn’t under control, like if they’re not taking their medication regularly, it can be much worse. I’ve seen several patients just over the past few weeks ho have been admitted to the hospital, or even the ICU.”

So what’s an asthmatic to do? If the case is severe enough, an allergist can prescribe a daily maintenance medication that should be used every day — both good and bad, Perry said.

“We also prescribe rescue inhalers that are only to be used in response to symptoms,” he added. “In the winter, when cold air is a trigger, they may have to use it more often. And you can’t prevent every common cold, but everyone needs to be practicing regular hand washing because that’s the most common way viruses are spread.”

Let’s say you’re not asthmatic, but you suffer from allergies. If you’re still experiencing regular symptoms throughout the winter, like sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes or coughing, keep in mind that not every allergen is seasonal. Pollen counts flare in the spring and fall, but triggers like pets and house dust mites can provoke year-round allergy agony.

“Most allergy triggers are seasonal, and in Chattanooga it’s worse in the spring and fall; but house dust mites are perennial, as are pet allergens,” said Perry. “Most people don’t realize it and don’t realize their cats and dogs are contributing to their symptoms. Just because it’s winter and the leaves are gone doesn’t mean you won’t be affected. If you get worse in the winter, it’s probably one of those.”

Patients who discover they are allergic to their pet can treat their symptoms with medication under the guidance of their doctor, but those who suffer from dust mite allergies can go a step farther, treating their homes as well as their bodies.

“You can buy dust mite protectors for your mattress and pillows that zip up and encase the whole thing, and those are impermeable barriers to dust mites — they can’t get out,” Perry said. “Everything else on the bed — sheets, mattress pads, blankets, stuffed animals — those are the kinds of things that should be washed in really hot water once a week. But all this won’t necessarily get rid of dust mites completely, so that’s why it’s sometimes necessary to treat the resulting allergy symptoms really well. The only curative treatment for allergies to perennial allergens such as pet(s) and dust mites is allergen immunotherapy, or allergy shots.”

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Chattanooga Allergy Clinic, a six-time Chattanooga Times Free Press “Best of the Best” winner, has offices in Chattanooga and Hixson, at Erlanger at Volkswagen Drive and in Cleveland, Tenn., and Fort Oglethorpe, Ga. For more information or to set up an appointment, visit www.chattanoogaallergyclinic.com or call 423-899-0432.

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