Late spring, high pollen counts could cause ‘perfect storm’ for asthma sufferers

The late arrival of spring coupled with high pollen counts throughout the U.S. may make this spring season especially difficult for asthma sufferers, according to one expert.

“There are two things about this year’s season: It just came out that the pollen peaks will be a little bit delayed because of the severity of winter and late snow storms. Some are saying it will be a perfect storm because of the pent up storage of pollen,” Dr. Andrew S. Ting, assistant professor of pediatrics, pulmonary and critical care at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, told “The second thing is if you go to, [pollen counts are] already high.”

The combination of a late-season ‘explosion’ of tree pollen and already-high pollen counts indicate a rough season for people suffering from asthma induced by tree pollen allergies.

“Those who do have tree pollen sensitivities, they are having right now more asthma, more use of rescue inhalers and likely more use of steroids,” Ting said.

Among adolescents and adults, tree-pollen allergies are the most common trigger of breathing difficulties. Pollen-triggered asthma can be treated using a rescue inhaler, doses of the oral steroid prednisone or through long-term asthma-control medications. However, Ting emphasizes that asthma-sufferers should prepare for potential difficulties well before allergy season begins.

“Always make sure you have fresh prescriptions of rescue inhaler, that will be most likely albuterol, and if you are using that excessively, get a dose of prednisone, an oral steroid, prior to high pollen counts and see your doctor for use of controller medication,” Ting said.

Ideally, asthma sufferers should have visited their doctor two weeks ago, as pollen counts are already high, Ting said. But it’s not too late to make an appointment and enact preventive measures to make sure pollen allergies don’t escalate.

“A lot of doctors believe you should treat the nose as aggressively as the lungs because it’s all one passageway. Take an antihistamine and consider nasal steroids,” Ting said, noting that the nasal spray Nasacort AQ, is now available to patients over-the-counter for the first time.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) recently released its annual “Spring Allergy Capitals” report, naming Louisville, Ky., as the worst city for allergies based on pollen score, rates of allergy medicine use and number of board-certified allergists in the area.

Ting said there is no one region of the country more prone to asthma difficulties – though asthma sufferers may experience more symptoms in some of the high-ranking ‘Allergy Capitals.’ However, people with a history of asthma shouldn’t fear travelling to or living in cities with high pollen counts, according to Ting.

“We have excellent medication to control [asthma and allergies] right now. You can get allergy shots, we have inhaled steroids, nasal steroids,” Ting said. “Live your life, even if you move to the #100 [city on the ‘Allergy Capitals’ list], there’s pollen there too.”

For asthma suffers, the best way to avoid severe complications this spring is to be proactive about their health. Ting advises patients to change their clothes and wash their hair after spending time outdoors, to avoid tracking pollen into the house. And most importantly – people with asthma problems should check in with their doctor before their allergies and asthma begin to escalate.

“Be prepared. Human nature is to hope that this year will be better than last, but since every spring for the last five years has been the ‘worst ever’ [for allergies], this one might be bad too,” Ting said. “You should have gone [to the doctor] in March, but in April it’s not too late.”