Top 5 Summer Asthma Triggers – What to Avoid
Summer has arrived! While it’s a wonderful time of year for family and recreational activities, it can also be a challenging time of year for those of us who suffer from allergies and allergic asthma. Believe me, I know — summer is my most active season when it comes to bothersome symptoms, such as:
- Stuffy nose
- Runny nose
- Itching eyes, nose, oral cavity and throat
- Headaches from the nasal congestion
- Itchy, rashy skin aggravated by sweating in hot weather
- Wheezing, shortness of breath and cough
It’s not much fun, right?
The key to making summer work for you when you have allergies and asthma is learning how to avoid summer asthma triggers and summer allergy triggers as much as you can. It’s almost impossible to avoid them altogether. But any amount of exposure that you limit will lead to a more comfortable and stable health status.
1. Grass and Weed Pollen
In the spring, it’s the pollen from trees that is at the highest levels in the air. Come summer, however, grass and weed pollens are the most common culprits for triggering your symptoms. Grass pollen, typically, circulates in late spring and early summer. Weeds, such as ragweed, are most active in late summer and extend into fall until the first frost.
The easiest way to avoid pollen is to stay indoors all the time — but who wants to do that during the summer? So, the next best strategy is to stay indoors whenever pollen counts are highest. Early mornings most days, between 5AM and 10AM tend to be when pollen counts are high. Certain weather conditions, such as dry, windy days also contribute to higher pollen counts. To know for sure what the pollen counts are like for your area, use a website such as pollen.com to check.
Other strategies include:
- Avoid line drying clothes, because they’ll collect pollen
- Keep house and car windows closed and air conditioning on when pollen counts are high
- Wash your hands & face after being outdoors to get rid of pollen
2. Mold Spores
Another common summer trigger for allergies and asthma is outdoor mold spores. It’s the warmer temperatures in summer and summer rainstorms that lead to the growth of outdoor mold. This type of mold can be found in soil, plants, rotting wood and fall leaf piles. Mold counts tend to be highest around the same times as weed pollen counts — mid to late summer and into fall. This can vary, however, depending on location. For instance, in colder climates, mold counts may not peak until fall, while in the south, mold spores may circulate year-round.
As with pollen, the most effective way to avoid molds is to stay indoors when counts are high. You can monitor the mold counts in your area at the National Allergy Board. (Pollen counts are also available there.) If you must be outdoors, stay away from places where mold is likely to be growing, such as gardens, the woods, etc.
Using air conditioning with a HEPA filter when indoors will also help.
If you’re like me, smoke can be a powerful asthma trigger any time of the year. But, during summer, you are more likely to come into contact with smoke from campfires, barbecue grills or even forest fires. If you are sensitive to smoke, you’ll want to stay away from these sources as much as you can. If you live in an area where forest fire smoke is often present, as I do, this can be a real challenge!
I’m an avid outdoor recreation enthusiast, but I’m having to curtail my usual activities this year to avoid the forest fire smoke that is ever present in the evenings and mornings in my area.
4. Extreme Weather
Some studies suggest that a phenomenon called “thunderstorm asthma” may actually trigger asthma attacks. It seems that certain atmospheric conditions can be a trigger in sensitive people. It’s hard to avoid such events, but experts recommend that you limit your time outdoors in the 24 hours after severe weather. Hopefully, this will prevent your asthma symptoms from being triggered.
5. Traveling & Summer Activities
We are always most at risk of coming into contact with our allergy and asthma triggers when we are not in our usual environments. When you travel to a new location, you may come into contact with pollen, mold, secondhand smoke and other allergens that are not present at home, especially in public places. Even things like high chlorine content in a public swimming pool could be enough of an airway irritant to trigger your symptoms.
In addition, when you travel or are on vacation, it’s easy to get off schedule with your medications. It might happen because you’re busy or maybe you’re overtired from lack of sleep. You may also be too busy to stay on top of your asthma and allergy symptoms enough to notice when they start to spiral out of control.
Responding When Avoidance Is Not Enough
While avoiding your triggers is always the best strategy, we need to be realistic. Chances are good that you will not be able to completely avoid all summer triggers and that you will experience your symptoms being triggered. When that happens, being prepared goes a long way toward preventing major health issues.
Here are a few action steps to keep your asthma on an even keel all summer:
- Make sure you have an up-to-date Asthma Action Plan to help you recognize when control is slipping and to know what to do if that happens.
- Take your controller medication as prescribed, and make sure you always have it refilled before leaving on vacation.
- Start taking any allergy medications at the first sign of symptoms, or before they start. It takes about 2 weeks for you to feel the full effect of allergy medications once you start them.
- Always keep your quick-relief inhaler with you, especially if you know you’ll be exposed to summer triggers.