Get Fit, Breathe Easier

Bad Air Day? Here's How to Survive

How to cope on bad air days
Once youve figured out what factors are most likely to pose a problem (usually by trial and error, or testing for allergies), and know the conditions in your area, there are several things you can do to cope.

One option is to reduce excessive exposure on days that might trigger symptoms. For example, Dr. Benninger recommends avoiding areas where pollen, mold, or other allergens are high. If you know that grass and trees are a problem, dont spend the day in a lush, tree-filled park; if you have to mow your lawn, wear a mask with a filter to reduce exposure to grass. Staying indoors with the windows closed and the air-conditioning on is also helpful, Dr. Benninger says.

Todd Rambasek, MD, of ENT & Allergy Health Services, in Cleveland, says there are three things that typically affect your ability to breathe outside:

  • How much of an allergen or pollutant is present.
  • How heavily you are breathing. (For example, you breathe more heavily when exercising.)
  • How well your symptoms are controlled, if you have asthma.
People with asthma often need to use an everyday controller medication, which is a drug that eases underlying lung inflammation. Bronchodilators are another type of asthma drug that can be used to expand airways and relieve symptoms, such as shortness of breath or coughing. However, if you are using a bronchodilator inhaler all the time to treat symptoms, its a sign that your asthma isnt under control and that you should be taking controller medication daily.

“If people take daily controller medications, they are less likely to have problems when they are near triggers,” says Dr. Rambasek.

In addition to regularly taking controller medications—such as fluticasone, Singulair, and Azmacort—asthmatics should also carry albuterol, a common bronchodilator, according to Dr. Rambasek. Using a bronchodilator inhaler about 30 minutes before going outside can be helpful, he says.

Over-the-counter antihistamines such as Claritin (loratadine) tend to work well and are relatively safe for those with allergies, Dr. Rambasek says. Dr. Benninger recommends using topical anti-allergy eye drops and Afrin for itchy eyes and congestion if symptoms are infrequent, though he cautions that Afrin should only be used for a few days at a time.

Dr. Benninger also advises patients to begin taking medications two to three weeks prior to allergy season. Steroid nasal sprays are particularly beneficial when taken in advance if you have allergies that affect your sinuses, he says.

Next Page: Smart ways to exercise on bad air days


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