September marks the beginning of many of the year’s greatest milestones: the start of the school year, the first signs of sweater weather, falling leaves, and the advent of the holiday season. However, for asthma patients, fall welcomes a new batch of seasonal asthma triggers that can severely dampen your fall festivities.
Learn more about what asthma triggers to anticipate, and what you can do to enjoy the season symptom-free.
Fall Asthma Triggers
With the changing seasons, fall rings in a new round of seasonal allergens. Moreover, changing environments both in the home and community expose you to new asthma triggers as fall festivities commence. From pollen to classroom triggers, here’s a look at fall’s greatest asthma-inducing culprits.
Ragweed – among other weed pollens – is the most notorious autumn allergen. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, up to 75% of patients affected by springtime allergies will have an equally adverse reaction to ragweed pollen. While it is natural to assume that pollen allergies are exclusive to the springtime, the ragweed plant peaks its pollen production in September: each ragweed plant can release up to 1 billion pollen grains per season. Over 17 species of ragweed grow in the U.S. alone, with the plant thriving in most regions nationwide.
With chilly winds and piles of fallen leaves, the fall landscape is the perfect environment for ragweed pollen to accumulate and spread.
Mold & Mildew
Damp weather conditions are the perfect playground for mold to grow and proliferate. Beyond the basement and bathroom, mold can also grow on the outside of the house and in the yard. Children who like to play in fallen leaf piles, for example, are sure to release the mold spores collecting in the dead leaves.
Dust mites can especially prove to be a problem in the home during the fall months, for a number of reasons. For one, as temperatures drop and heaters are turned up high, dust mites collecting in vents are released into the environment. Moreover, this is also the time when festive families dig up holiday decorations from the basement or attic, which have certainly collected generous amounts of dust over the passing months. With these factors combined, even the home can become a miserable environment for any asthma sufferer.
This is more a source than a cause of asthma symptoms. Raking leaves exposes the asthma patient to the dust, pollen, and mold lurking in the aging piles of leaves, dispersing them into the lungs.
For pediatric asthma patients, starting or returning to school brings on a host of new asthma triggers to cope with. Classrooms, aging buildings, and playgrounds can be rife with mold, pollen, and dust. If there is a classroom pet present, dander is thrown into the mix. Add in the preponderance of germs and respiratory viruses that children pass on to each other, and back-to-school can prove to be a very distressing time for a young asthma sufferer.
Cold weather is a common and well-known asthma trigger. In fact, the cold air itself can induce an asthma attack: coldness causes airway constriction, making it difficult to breathe. Add to this the dry wind and rain that usually accompanies colder weather, and you have a whirlwind of pollen, mold, and chills; all of which form the recipe for an asthmatic episode.
Fall and its characteristic sweater weather is the time for fireside gatherings of all forms: by the bonfire, the campfire, and the fireplace. Smoke and ash are known asthma triggers, making the fireside a less friendly place for asthma sufferers. This is especially true for fireplaces indoors, where there is less ventilation.
Cold & Flu Viruses
Respiratory illness can greatly exacerbate asthma symptoms, making breathing even more laborious. With the coughing and congestion prevalent with the cold and the flu, asthma patients need to take special care to protect their lung health to avoid complications.
Stay Symptom-Free this Season
As in any season, the best thing an asthma patient can do to alleviate symptoms is to control the environment, which means avoiding or filtering allergens whenever possible.
For ragweed and other outdoor allergens, monitor pollen counts in your area and avoid unnecessary yard work – or even better, delegate yard work to someone more capable. Wear a mask if possible when pollen counts are high, or cover your nose with a scarf. Keep the windows closed to keep out airborne allergens and cold air, and of course stay warm both in and outdoors.
In the home, clean the vents thoroughly before using the central heating system, and install a HEPA filter if possible. Have another family member bring down holiday decorations, and wipe them thoroughly for dust and mold. Avoid using the fireplace in the home, however tempting it may be, and clean the house thoroughly for mold, mildew, and dust.
Since it is more difficult to control the classroom environment, make sure your child is properly equipped to cope with asthma triggers: that they are warm, healthy, and medicated. Educate both your child and the teacher about the need for an inhaler. Talk to your child about listening to their symptoms, so that they know when to see the school nurse. Pack hand sanitizer and vitamin C to ward off respiratory illness.