Welcome to Summer... with Asthma!
Last updated: July 2021
Summer is upon us! For many of us, Summer can be one of our worst asthma seasons. Personally, it comes second to winter in terms of my worst asthma seasons. Heat, humidity, and summertime allergens are all potential culprits for why our asthma may get worse in the summer. Here's what to be on the lookout for - and what might help with these summer allergies, with specific notes about what may be available to you even if your area is still under degrees of COVID-19 lockdown.
Heat, humidity and breathing
These are technically two separate bullet points, but it can be a challenge to extricate the two. If you live in a hot and humid place, they're one and the same (and if you don't, that's potentially helpful when it comes to asthma depending on your triggers!).
Air that is more humid than 35-55 percent relative humidity can be more difficult to breathe - and more humidity can make mold growth occur more easily which may also trigger asthma and allergies.1
What can help: Using an air conditioner or dehumidifier (or both) can help. If you don't have access to these things, use fans to keep air moving in your home. Cool showers, ice packs, cold cloths/towels, can help too, though they don't cool the air. If possible, given the COVID restrictions where you live, visit an indoor place with air conditioning such as a cafe, shopping center, or movie theatre. Staying hydrated can also help prevent your lungs from developing dehydration-induced irritation, which can make them more sensitive to other triggers.1
Even with COVID restrictions in place, some jurisdictions are allowing splash pads, outdoor pools, libraries, and community centers to open to allow people to cool off during heatwaves. (Note: if you have other means to stay cool and your area is allowing these things to open for those who don't, please don't use them as a family/social outing and allow the people who don't have sprinklers or air conditioning to use them to stay safe!)
Summer allergies and asthma
Common summer allergens are mold, pollens, and insect stings.2 If you find yourself getting a cold every summer, it's possible it could instead be allergies. Getting allergy tests may help give you information to manage those summer sniffles and other symptoms!
Mitigating mold allergy
Mold growth indoors and out is a common summer allergen. Especially outdoors, mold "spores" (small particles of mold) can disperse through the air. Some travel more easily in dry weather through the wind, others spread in high humidity, such as fog or dew.3
Managing household humidity and mold growth can help indoors, but managing outdoor mold allergies can be more of a challenge. Some people's mold allergy symptoms may only show up at certain times of year (e.g. summer to early fall), others may experience symptoms year-round - it depends on what types of mold they are allergic to and, of course, where they live.3 It's also interesting to note that, unlike pollen, mold does not always "die off" after the first freeze of the year; it may also simply become 'dormant' and re-spawn during the first thaw!2
What can help mold allergies: If you find your allergy symptoms are happening year-round, seeking out indoor sources may be key to solving the problem. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, mold is most likely to grow in the kitchen, bathroom, or basement - or any other damp area of your home.3
Pondering pollen allergy
If you have outdoor allergies to pollen, summer allergens will vary based on where you live - allergy test panels are generally specific to where you live and which pollens are most prevalent.
It's important to note that some people with pollen allergies may also experience symptoms after eating "fresh produce, such as celery, apples and melons", as well as other raw fruits and vegetables and certain tree nuts, notes the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. These types of symptoms are known as "food pollen syndrome."2
What can help pollen allergies: Antihistamines, staying indoors during peak pollen times, and using asthma medications as directed can help you stay ahead of pollen allergy symptoms. Also, check out Kat's article on her adventure into the woods and how she manages her outdoor allergies, where she offers some tips including showering after you return home from the outdoors.
If you think you may have food pollen syndrome, it's likely worth chatting about with an allergist to help resolve those symptoms.
Investigating insect allergies
Insect allergies are the third most common allergen listed by ACAAI (...is that pronounced like açaí?). They can occur after both insect bites and stings (there are also other types of insect allergies such as cockroaches but we'll skip over that for now!). Sometimes insects like wasps, hornets, bees, or fire ants cause allergic reactions that can be serious or life-threatening when a person is stung. Insect bite allergies are very common (such as to mosquitoes, bedbugs, fleas, and flies) and may cause minor swelling and redness - rarely more serious or life-threatening reactions can be triggered.2
What can help insect allergies: Avoiding insects here is key but not always possible! Wear long sleeves and pants (especially if going into the woods, though that may be hot and impractical!), and stay away from places that may harbor bees and wasps (like gardens and garbage cans). Insect repellant sprays or devices can also help if they don't also trigger your asthma! If reactions are mild, anti-itch cream/spray or antihistamines can help. If you have potentially life-threatening reactions to stings/bites, practice avoidance and ensure you have epinephrine with you.
What can help summer allergies in general?
Ask your doctor about antihistamines during the summer and early fall when molds are most prevalent may help, as well as during when you experience pollen allergies the most. You may also need to change how much asthma medication like inhaled steroids you take during your allergy season to keep allergy-related asthma symptoms in check.
This may sound like a lot to do to manage asthma through the summer months, but once you know your asthma triggers and how to manage them, you can still join in on all the fun to be had in summer. Just remember to stay cool, stay hydrated, take your meds, and bring your inhaler along!
What are your summer asthma and allergy survival tips? Let us know in the comments!
How often do you experience a shortage in your asthma medication?