Asthma: Every Season Brings Risks

Article Categories: Diseases and Conditions & Pharmacology

Chances are that your practice has a steady stream of patients with asthma. About 1 in 12 adults (over age 18) has asthma. For children, it’s 1 in 11 who require treatment and management. In a typical year, physicians will see more than 10.5 million patients with a primary diagnosis of asthma!

While spring, with its damp air and blooming plants, may seem to cause a rise in patient visits, each season has a reason to be alert for specific asthma symptoms. Let’s look at each season and see what goes on:

SPRING: Spring means pollen, especially in climates with cold winters. Around March, trees release pollen, causing symptoms to worsen. Then, in May and June, grass puts out pollen. Pollen can cause asthma attacks because of the inflammation in the airways. Also, the changes in temperature and humidity that are part of normal spring weather can trigger episodes. Fortunately, it’s possible to predict when pollen levels are elevated. Usually counts are highest between 4 am and 10 am, so asthmatics can plan when to exercise or to be prepared for symptoms.

SUMMER: For many patients, summer brings some relief. Pollen season is over and the flu season lies ahead. However, poor air quality and stagnant, moist air can be dangerous for some patients. When smog or stagnant air combine with sunlight, ozone is produced, causing asthma symptoms. Also, a weather change of ten degrees in temperature and/or 10% humidity seems to be a powerful trigger. Children seem to be especially affected in the summer.

AUTUMN: Asthma flare-ups are most likely to occur in the fall, for several reasons. First, ragweed pollen (especially in the East and Midwest) can bring the same symptoms as spring pollen. Autumn also means cold-and-flu season, which can be more serious for anyone with asthma because they already have chronic inflammation in their airways. Patients are not more likely to catch a cold or flu, but they are more susceptible to complications, including pneumonia. For children, just returning to school exposes them to more “opportunities.”

WINTER: Not surprisingly, the cold, dry air of winter can be a problem for people with asthma. Cold air makes lungs tighten up. Exercise can be a problem, because of the outside. But indoor air requires attention, too. When heaters and humidifiers are used, mold can develop. Dust mites are another winter-time problem that can trigger asthma symptoms.

What can you do to help your asthmatic patients stay healthy and avoid extra office visits? Here are some questions to help you quickly assess knowledge and compliance:

Do they know what asthma is?

• Can they tell you some symptoms of an asthma attack?
• Ask about their symptoms and triggers. What causes a flare-up or attack?
• Are they using their medications and inhalers as directed?
• Can they demonstrate how to use an inhaler?
• What makes them feel better?

A few minutes of conversation with your patient, and the patient’s parent or family member, can give you a lot of information. You can then provide education or materials that are useful for the patient. You can also let the patient’s provider know, so treatment can be better managed.

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