It’s very common for pollen to trigger allergic reactions and asthma episodes.
It’s the asthma that can often be life-threatening, according to Kenneth Mendez, president and CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).
About 10 people per day die from asthma in the United States, Mendez told Healthline.
“If a person has allergic asthma, then an allergen such as pollen can trigger an asthma attack,” Mendez said.
Joe Dale, a 16-year-old boy, reportedly died from a severe allergic asthma attack in 2017 after visiting a park the day he collapsed. According to The Independent, he never regained consciousness and passed away a few days later.
The teen started having symptoms of asthma at 5 years old, but only had one attack when he was 12. He took an inhaler each morning and evening, and kept an emergency inhaler on him. The day he collapsed, he used his inhaler. He later went into a coma.
It’s unclear if Dale or his parents knew he had allergic asthma.
Allergic asthma is also known as extrinsic asthma. Symptoms can include:
- chest tightening
- fast breathing
About 80 percent of children with asthma have allergic asthma, and about 60 percent of adults have allergic asthma, Mendez said. A proper diagnosis is key to know if a person has asthma or allergic asthma. A doctor can perform a skin prick or blood tests to confirm allergens.
“It is critical to be properly diagnosed, undergo testing, avoid triggers, and follow your prescribed asthma management plan,” Mendez said. “An asthma action plan can also help guide you when to take your quick-relief medicines and when to seek emergency medical care.”
“If you have a history of asthma, an allergist will often track your asthma symptoms and do objective testing such as pulmonary function tests in your peak seasons to see if management needs to be increased,” added Dr. Stacey Galowitz, an allergy specialist from New Jersey.
Asthma triggers vary from person to person. Smoke, air pollution, exercise, weather, and fragrances — or any allergen — can cause an asthma attack. Asthma is chronic inflammation in the airways. If you have an allergic reaction, it can increase the inflammation, making it difficult to breathe.
Any allergen can cause a fatal asthma attack if exposure is high enough or the asthma is poorly controlled, Galowitz added.
“The best way to prevent this is to keep your asthma under control by taking daily long-term control medicines and to avoid or reduce exposure to your allergens,” Mendez added.
People who know they’re allergic specifically to pollen should limit outdoor activities when pollen counts are high. Pollen counts can be highest between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. from most plants. The AAFA reports that location can also impact allergies.
Overall, the threat of pollen triggering asthma is worse in peak pollen season when the counts are at their highest. That’s in April and May for tree and grass pollen and August thru October for weed and ragweed, Galowitz noted.
Though the threat of an attack is higher in the morning, one can happen any time of day. When outside, wear sunglasses and a hat to keep pollen off of you. Limit close contact with pets who spend a lot of time outdoors, too.
When you come inside from outdoor exposure, change and wash your clothes. Be sure to dry them in a dryer, not on an outdoor line, Mendez suggested.
Bathing and shampooing hair daily before sleeping can remove pollen and help keep it off bedding. Bedding should be washed in hot, soapy water once a week.
Also, keep windows closed during pollen season. If it’s too warm outside, use central air conditioning with a certified asthma and allergy friendly filter, which can be used in vehicles and offices.
“This will lessen the amount of pollen allergen you inhale and reduce your symptoms,” Mendez noted.
Most importantly, begin taking allergy medication before pollen season starts, Mendez added.
“Most allergy medicines work best when taken this way. This allows the medicine to prevent your body from releasing histamine and other chemicals that cause your symptoms,” he said.
“It is important to see your doctor before the spring allergy season,” Mendez noted. “People who start treatments in advance of the season may have a better outcome.”
Galowitz agreed that proper management is key. She hasn’t had patients with fatal asthma outcomes, but she has seen patients who have bad flare-ups. This usually occurs during peak spring or fall season, or after significant animal exposure. In those cases, it can require acute visits and sometimes oral steroids to get their asthma back under control.
“If you have a history of asthma and also suffer from allergic rhinitis, it is very important, particularly in peak allergy season, to keep your asthma well controlled,” Galowitz said. “This means regularly scheduled follow-ups with your healthcare provider, and taking controller medications as prescribed.”