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Seasonal Allergies and COPD: Tips to Avoid Complications

COPD: An overview

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of lung conditions usually made up of chronic bronchitis and emphysema. COPD is commonly linked to a history of smoking cigarettes. The condition results in airway blockages and causes serious breathing difficulties. Symptoms include:

  • persistent cough
  • wheezing
  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath
  • feeling winded after activities that weren’t difficult in the past
  • coughing up mucus

Learn more: Everything you need to know about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) »

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Why do I have seasonal allergies?

Seasonal allergies are very common. Millions of people deal with the itchy, watery eyes and stuffy noses caused by seasonal allergies. These symptoms occur when your immune system reacts to pollen, dust, mold, or other allergens that you’ve inhaled. Your immune system activates certain cells that produce substances like histamine. These substances are what produce allergy symptoms. People with COPD seem to be more sensitive to other breathing conditions. Of course, if you have COPD, you likely already have some trouble breathing.

Learn more: The allergen lurking in your house: Mold allergy symptoms »

Are my allergies serious?

Seasonal allergies are a nuisance for most people. For people with COPD, however, any extra condition that makes breathing difficult is automatically more serious. According to a 2012 study at the Johns Hopkins Allergy and Asthma Center, people who had COPD and seasonal allergies suffered from worsened respiratory symptoms such as coughing and wheezing. They were also significantly more likely to need medical attention for their symptoms.

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How can I avoid serious complications?

The best thing you can do is to avoid potential allergens. Allergens are all around us, but you already have a head start if you know your triggers. You can take steps now to reduce your contact with specific allergens that worsen your symptoms. Read on for tips on avoiding common allergens that could make your COPD symptoms worse.

Know before you go

Check out your local pollen report before you leave the house. Many weather sites, such as AccuWeather, will provide information on the current pollen and mold levels for your area. The Weather Channel’s Allergy Tracker also notes the levels for particular types of pollen, including tree, weed, and grass. You may wish to plan outings on days when pollen and mold levels are lower to reduce your allergy symptoms.

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Stay inside

It’s best to stay inside when the air quality in your area is poor. For people with COPD, an Air Quality Index above 100 can wreak havoc on respiratory symptoms. If you live in the United States, a good resource for checking air quality is AirNow. This measures the amount of air pollution in a given area. If you have to go outside, try wearing a mask to filter out pollutants and irritants.

Treat your symptoms

When you have allergy symptoms such as itchy eyes or a runny nose, talk to your doctor about allergy medication. Taking an over-the-counter antihistamine may work for you. Medications such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and cetirizine (Zyrtec) can stop your immune response to allergy triggers in its tracks, potentially lessening breathing difficulties. Nasal steroids, decongestants, and inhalers may also be needed to decrease inflamed airways.

Allergy-proof your environment

Install a good filtration system in your air conditioner and keep windows closed when pollen counts or pollutants are high. Buy a cabin air filter for your car that is specifically designed to keep allergens out. Vacuum and dust regularly to get rid of any pollen or mold spores that may have gotten in from outside.

Talk to your doctor

Talk to your doctor about your allergy symptoms and how seasonal allergies affect your COPD. He or she may want you to try a prescription allergy medication. Your doctor may also advise you to use your inhaler more often during peak allergy season. Allergy testing can help determine exactly which allergens give you problems. Allergy shots may be recommended for preventing further complications.

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