ASK THE PHARMACIST: Creating an asthma action plan during allergy season

Q: My eight-year-old granddaughter suffers from allergies; her episodes are very frightening. Her asthma symptoms seem to be worsened by her seasonal allergies. What can we do to help keep her asthma under control during peak allergy seasons?

A: Seasonal allergies have the tendency to make asthma symptoms worse for sufferers. Asthma and seasonal allergies cause problems with our breathing by obstructing the free passage of air along the path to our lungs.

Some of the common symptoms of asthma are coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath or rapid breathing, and chest tightness, so it is understandable for a young child to be quite frightened when attacks occur.

My first suggestion for any patient with allergies is to start by identifying the allergy triggers so that you know what to avoid in order to prevent an attack when outside the home, or while in the homes of others, such as family and friends.

Identify your triggers: An allergy trigger is anything that causes inflammation in the airways, which then leads to the development of allergy and, in people with asthma, asthma symptoms. While not all personal asthma and allergy triggers are the same, some are very common and affect a wide number of people. Some common outdoor allergy triggers are mold spores as well as tree, grass and weed pollen. Common triggers found within the home and/or workplace are: dust, dust mites, airborne cat or dog dander, and mold spores.

At the young age of eight, your granddaughter is likely to be quite active with friends outdoors and may find herself running into some of these common triggers without being aware that they are affecting her. One way to become more aware of outdoor triggers is to check the daily pollen report in your area. The Weather Network provides a localized pollen and spore forecast daily. During peak allergy seasons, check these reports before scheduling outdoor activities. If the pollen level is high that day, consider scheduling an indoor activity instead.

If your granddaughter is still at the early stages of getting her asthma under control, for the time being, it would be best to avoid visiting homes that have family pets. As you will not always be able to avoid indoor and outdoor triggers, it is important to learn how to understand and control her asthma medications, as well as other medications that can help control or relieve allergy symptoms.

Understanding your medications: When it comes to asthma medications, there are two different types that an asthma sufferer may be prescribed. These include long-term controller medications that help control asthma symptoms and should be taken on a daily basis, as well as quick relief medications, such as a short-term and fast-acting medication for acute breathing problems. Your pharmacist can explain which medication needs to be taken daily to prevent symptoms, and which should be taken to relieve an asthma attack caused by allergies or other triggers. Your pharmacist can also help develop an action plan to more effectively manage her condition.

It is also vital that people with asthma ensure that they are taking their medication properly. For young asthma sufferers like your granddaughter, a pharmacist can demonstrate how to properly use the different types of inhalers to make sure the medication reaches her airways and lungs.

In addition to her asthma medications, there are a number of allergy medications available that can help prevent or relieve the allergy symptoms that may be aggravating your granddaughter’s asthma during allergy season. Your pharmacist can provide guidance and counsel on the medications that can help her and which are best to avoid, given her young age and the other medications she is currently taking.

Photo © Nina Shannon

ASK THE PHARMACIST is an information series produced for by the Ontario Pharmacists’ Association. Questions are submitted to, and answered by, one or more members of the Association. Please submit your question by email to [email protected].

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Note: All answers are intended to provide general guidance on health questions, and are not intended to provide diagnosis of specific medical conditions or recommendations for treatment, or to substitute for medical advice or treatment.