Allergic Asthma: What It Is, How to Beat It
You can do several things at home to limit your allergen exposure. First, clear out dust traps like wall-to-wall carpeting and clutter. If your basement is damp and musty, install a dehumidifier. Leaving a light on in the basement can also be helpful, according to Dr. Winder, because mold needs both dark and dampness to grow. Keeping the air in your house relatively dry will also help control dust mites.
Your best bet if you're allergic to animal dander is to have a pet-free home (unless it's a dander-free pet, like a snake), but this isn't always realistic. If you can't bear to part with a furry pet, try keeping your pooch or kitty in a specific part of the house (not your bedroom). Many people find it helpful to put cheese cloth over bedroom radiators or vents to prevent allergens from circulating. (Find other tips in How to Reduce Pet Allergens at Home.)
And if you're thinking about getting a pet, the consensus is that there really is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog or cat, although some breeds are thought to be better than others.
If you're still suffering from symptoms despite your best efforts, you may want to consider allergy shots, which have about an 85% effectiveness rate at decreasing symptoms. But keep in mind it requires a long-term commitment. It can take up to five years of once-a-week to once-a-month visits with your allergist to get the injections.
The best way to handle dust mite allergies? Special dust mite covers for your pillows and mattress. The mattress cover never needs to come off the bed, Dr. Winder says. Wash sheets at least once a week in water that's at least 130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. And when you dust, use a damp cloth; a dry one will simply send dust mites floating.
If pollen is your foe, try to avoid going out at certain times of day when pollen counts are high, Dr. Winder advises. "Early morning and early evening, late afternoon, are two prime times for getting exposed to the pollens," he says.
And keeping the area outside your home tidyby eliminating piles of rotting leaves or other debris on your lawn, in your gutters, or anywhere else nearbycan also help keep outdoor mold under control.
Thompson and his family recently moved from a house with wall-to-wall carpeting on the second floor and a musty-smelling basement to a house with area rugs only, and no musty basement smell. "I've noticed a difference since we moved here, I just breathed a little easier."
For Thompson, paying attention to his symptoms and his environment has made a big difference in how he feels. "I think there's a lot of little things you can do. I think you just need to be more aware of your surroundings and what your environment is like and how clean it is."
How to treat it
When it comes to treatment of allergic asthma, inhaled corticosteroids are the backbone of therapy because they reduce lung inflammation, according to Dr. Nathan.
If inhaled corticosteroids don't keep symptoms under control, your doctor may prescribe a long-acting beta agonist or an anti-leukotriene modifier, like Singulair.
Anyone with asthma should also keep a short-acting beta agonist on hand for emergencies. These "rescue inhalers" can ease asthma symptoms fast. They're meant to be used only occasionally, unless you're using them to prevent exercise-related asthma symptoms. Using them more than a couple of times a week indicates that asthma is poorly controlled and other medications are needed. Overuse of beta-agonists can actually make it more difficult for the airways to relax on their own.
Medications like Allegra can help keep seasonal allergy symptoms under control. Xolair (omalizumab) is a new drug that works by tying up the antibodies that cause allergies, but it is only used in patients with severe disease because of the cost.
In addition to paying close attention to his asthma triggers, Thompson keeps a rescue inhaler on hand. He only uses his rescue inhaler a couple of times a month, at most. And during pollen season, he tracks pollen counts online so he knows what to expect on a given day, and takes Allegra to cope with his symptoms.
One of Thompson's former doctors prescribed him several medications for asthma symptoms, and then kept upping the dosage when they didn't help. The medications made it hard for him to sleep and gave him nightmares, so he decided to try get a better handle on his symptoms himself (and find another doctor).
"I think that there's a lot of little things you can do," he says. "I think you just need to be more aware of your surroundings and what your environment is like and how clean it is."