COPD and Seasonal Allergies
Seasonal allergies are very common. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, in the U.S. about 50 million people have allergies. For many people, allergies are seasonal. If you have COPD and allergies, it can make it harder to breathe and it might trigger a flare-up of symptoms. Continue reading to learn more about how to manage COPD if you have seasonal allergies.
What Are Seasonal Allergies?
Seasonal allergies are an allergic response that usually occurs from exposure to certain substances in the environment that are more widespread during specific times of the year. When you have an allergic response, your immune system goes into overdrive to fight a harmless substance that it deems as dangerous. IgE antibodies are released as part of the immune system response. The antibodies trigger various allergy symptoms, such as a runny nose, sneezing and wheezing.
Common seasonal allergens include grass, pollen and ragweed. Certain allergens are more abundant during the spring, but others occur more often during the fall. Some people are also allergic to more than one substance and may have seasonal allergies for more than one season.
What Is COPD?
COPD is a chronic lung disease that obstructs or interferes with breathing. It causes a combination of changes in the air sacs and bronchial tubes in the lungs. COPD includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
People who have COPD typically develop inflammation and increased mucus production in their airways, which leads to the narrowing of the airways. Common symptoms of COPD:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
Exposure to air pollution and genetic factors can affect the development of COPD. According to the American Lung Association, cigarette smoking in the main cause of COPD in the U.S.
How Can Seasonal Allergies Affect COPD?
Seasonal allergies can lead to common allergy symptoms, including congestion and wheezing. Nasal congestion can make it more difficult to breathe for anyone. It is often especially challenging for people with COPD.
If you have COPD, you may already have shortness of breath. Symptoms of seasonal allergies can increase problems and breathing and may make symptoms of COPD worse. According to research in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, people with COPD who have seasonal allergies may have worsening COPD symptoms, including wheezing and coughing.
Complications From Allergies With COPD
Because COPD symptoms may increase due to seasonal allergies, it can lead to complications, such as respiratory distress. If COPD symptoms become severe, it can make it difficult to get carbon dioxide out of the lungs. The buildup of carbon dioxide causes fatigue, headaches and decreases a person’s ability to breathe, which may cause respiratory failure.
When symptoms flare up it can be difficult to breathe. In such instances it may be helpful to use BiPAP for COPD, a machine that assists with breathing.
How Should COPD Patients Treat Seasonal Allergies?
If you have COPD, it is essential to do what you can to manage seasonal allergy symptoms to avoid worsening COPD symptoms. Work closely with your lung specialist and allergist to develop a treatment plan that works for you.
Consider the following treatments and strategies for treating seasonal allergies.
If you think you have allergies, it is helpful to see an allergist and have allergy tests. By getting tested, you can determine what allergens may be leading to symptoms. Once you identify your allergen, you may be able to take steps to reduce exposure.
Limit Time Outdoors
Seasonal allergies often include pollen, mold and grass. If you are allergic to a substance, such as pollen, usually it is helpful to limit the amount of time you spend outdoors on days the pollen count is high. You can check the pollen count in your area through your local weather station’s website. You can also check it at pollen.com.
If you do have to go outdoors when the pollen count is high, consider going out early in the morning or later in the early evening. If possible, go out after it rains, pollen is washed out of the air for a few hours.
Wear a Mask Outdoors
Wearing a mask outdoors when the pollen count is high may reduce exposure to allergens. Be sure you can still breathe well in the mask. Some people with COPD may have trouble getting enough air in with a mask on, so talk to your doctor for recommendations and the best types of mask to wear.
Use a HEPA Filter
Consider using a HEPA filter in your heating and air conditioning system to remove allergens from the air. Change your filter every two to three months.
Consider Allergy Shots
If your seasonal allergies are severe, you might want to consider allergy shots. Allergy shots help you build up a tolerance to your allergen, which decreases the allergic response by your immune system. It involves receiving a series of shots over many months to gradually increase your tolerance to the substance.
Follow Your COPD Action Plan
It is also vital to follow your COPD action plan. Take your prescribed COPD medications as directed by your doctor. Before taking allergy medications, talk with your doctor to determine if they are safe for your situation. Some medications may also interfere with other drugs you are taking to control COPD or other medical conditions you may have.