Make room to breathe

5/25/2017  By HealthNews

May 25, 2017 

(Asthma cigarettes were big in the 1800s, when smoking was seen as beneficial. 
Heflin Owen. Blog thumbnail photo: Art G.)

“I feel like a fish out of water.”

“There's an elephant sitting on my chest.”

“It's like a pillow being held over my face.”

"I've run out of breathing room."

Sound familiar?

It's Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month.

You might wonder why the two were combined. After all, allergies are about more than breathing issues. What you may not realize is that asthma and allergies often occur together. In fact, "allergies are one of the major triggers for asthma," says Jennifer Martin, Respiratory Therapist and Certified Asthma Educator at KVH Hospital.

Allergy specialists have found that those with a family history of allergies are at risk for allergic asthma. The same substances that trigger hay fever symptoms, such as pollen, dust mites and pet dander, may also cause asthma signs and symptoms. And while treatments for allergies and asthma are often very different, there are some, such as allergy shots (immunotherapy), that can treat both conditions.

Be aware. Be proactive. Seek help.

Every spring, KVH Cardiopulmonary sees a lot of allergy-triggered asthmatic reactions to cottonwood and hay. In the winter, patients with flu find themselves struggling with aggravated asthma. Other common contributors to asthma are weight gain and smoking (the sad irony known as asthma cigarettes finally disappeared in the 1980s). "When your lungs are already in bad shape, you add more into the mix and it just makes things worse," warns Martin, who with her colleagues frequently treats people with COPD - often as hospital inpatients.

"In this department, we're dealing with the heart and lungs," says Cardiopulmonary Director Jim Allen. "Those two areas can be frightening for patients to think about. But we're part of the patient's care team, and we have relationships with local providers. They send their patients to us and we run tests to help determine their condition," he explains. "While they're with us, we don't just test patients - we talk with them. We answer their questions and provide education." According to Allen, patients with asthmatic issues may be sent by their providers for a pulmonary function test, which is a non-invasive way to measure how well the lungs are working.

What you can do

Knowing what sets off your allergies and/or asthma, the 'triggers,' is a key defensive weapon in managing your own symptoms. Learn what those triggers are, and then figure out how best to limit your exposure to them. Your provider can help you find the best treatment to manage symptoms.

"As a pet owner myself, I'm not going to tell someone to get rid of their animals," laughs Martin. "Keep your house clean. Wash the dog. Put the cat outside. Do what you can to minimize your exposure to dust and dander."

If your young child struggles with asthma, don't assume it's going to be a lifelong battle. "Once they reach puberty and stop producing alveoli (tiny air sacs in the lungs)," says Martin, "it's easier to tell whether they are going to have chronic asthma as an adult."

As your body changes, your treatments may also change. There may be times when you need additional medications to treat more severe symptoms. But as you continue to be aware of your body's changes and reactions and what triggers them, in partnership with your provider, you'll become the point person for managing your symptoms because you'll know what works best for you. 

Be aware. Be proactive. Seek help.

We all make room in our life for what's important - so make room to breathe.

Managed by Kittitas Valley Healthcare, HealthNews does not provide medical advice. For medical advice, please see your healthcare provider.