For many people, certain seasons and asthma go together. Triggers, such as seasonal allergens, play a large role. In fact, seasonal asthma is often referred to as allergic asthma.
Changes in the weather, and seasonal activities, can also play a role.
In this article we’ll go into detail about the causes and symptoms of seasonal asthma, plus provide information about treatments that may help.
If you have asthma, you may have noticed that it worsens during certain seasons.
For some people, spring, summer, and fall may be particularly challenging times of the year. That’s because seasonal allergens may trigger asthmatic symptoms.
When you’re allergic to something, your immune system perceives the allergen as an invader, which must be attacked.
In response to the allergen, your immune system produces immunoglobulin E (IgE). IgE is an antibody that triggers the release of histamine when allergens activate it. Histamine causes allergic symptoms such as:
- runny, itchy nose
- watery, itchy eyes
In people with asthma, this process may also impact their lungs and airways, causing asthmatic symptoms.
Common triggers of seasonal asthma include:
Pollen is produced by trees, grasses and weeds. Pollen allergies are a common trigger of seasonal asthma.
The most prevalent types of pollen depend upon the growth cycle of outdoor greenery where you live. For example:
- spring – tree pollen
- summer – grass pollen
- late summer – ragweed pollen
- fall – ragweed pollen
Mold and mildew
Other allergens, such as mold and mildew, can also cause seasonal asthmatic symptoms.
Mold and mildew are both fungi, which proliferate throughout the year. However, certain molds spread more readily in dry, windy weather. Others are more likely to multiply and spread when it is damp and humid.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, allergic reactions to mold are most common during summer and early fall.
Mold can proliferate both indoors and outside. Your seasonal exposure to mold may be impacted by weather conditions and lifestyle choices. For example, if you hike in damp, wooded areas during summer of fall, mold may be lurking in and under weeds and logs.
You may also be driven indoors during cold winter weather, exposing you to mold and fungi in the home.
Cold, blustery weather outside may impact your activities, leaving you more vulnerable to seasonal asthma.
In the winter, you may remain indoors with the windows closed. This can increase your exposure to indoor allergens, such as:
- dust mites
- pet dander
Spending time outside may also trigger asthma. Breathing in cold, dry air can dry out and irritate your airways, causing asthmatic symptoms.
Cold air can also increase production of histamine, the culprit behind allergic attacks. Exercising or walking briskly in cold air may worsen these effects.
Summer weather may be hot and dry, or hot and humid. Both types of heat can bring on seasonal asthma.
Breathing in hot, dry air can cause your airways to narrow, causing asthmatic symptoms.
Humid air is saturated with water. This type of air may also cause your airways to narrow and tighten. People with asthma often find it harder to breathe in humid conditions.
Heat of all kinds can increase pollution, by trapping ozone and particulate matter. Stagnant, hazy air can also trigger asthmatic symptoms.
The symptoms of allergic, seasonal asthma include:
- difficulty breathing (shortness of breath)
- wheezing upon exhalation
- chest tightness or pain
If you have seasonal asthma, your doctor can create a treatment plan geared towards prevention and treatment of allergic asthma attacks.
The medications used may include a combination of over-the-counter (OTC) solutions, and prescribed drugs:
- Inhaled corticosteroids. Inhaled steroids repress inflammation in your airways. When taken daily, they control allergic asthma by reducing symptoms, and often stopping flare-ups before they start.
- Combination inhaler. Asthma combination inhalers contain corticosteroids, plus long-acting beta agonists that reduce swelling and keep airways open.
- Rescue (quick relief) medications. There are several types of medications that your doctor might prescribe for you to take, if you have an asthma attack. They include inhaled bronchodilators, and when severe, oral corticosteroids.
- Leukotriene modifier. Leukotriene modifiers work by blocking the activity of chemicals, called cysteinyl leukotrienes (CysLTs), in your airways. When left unchecked, CysLTs cause constriction and inflammation, making it hard to breathe.
- Mast cell stabilizers. Mast cell stabilizing drugs are another type of medication that is used to stop allergic reactions.
- Immunotherapy. Allergy shots may be recommended for moderate to severe allergic asthma. They work by reducing your immune system’s response to allergens over time.
Identifying seasonal triggers and limiting your exposure to them can help reduce allergic asthma significantly. Some ways to do this include:
- Pollen counts are at their highest at dawn and through the early. morning. Limit outdoor activity, including exercise, as much as possible during that time of day.
- Keeping your windows closed during the morning may also stop pollen from entering the home.
- Reduce levels of pet dander, pollen, dust, and dust mites in your home by vacuuming rugs, curtains, and soft furniture often. Using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter will help ensure that allergens stay in the bag, rather than getting recirculated out into the room.
- Steam clean your carpeting as often as possible. This helps kill dust mites.
- Wash hard surfaces such as wood and tile floors often.
- Wash bedding, including pillow and mattress protectors, often using hot water.
- Reduce mold in the home by eliminating leaks in your pipes, roof, and walls.
- If cold air is a trigger, keep your mouth and nose covered with a scarf when you’re outside. This will help humidify the air.
If preventive measures and OTC medications aren’t enough to eliminate symptoms, talk with your doctor. They will be able to work with you on finding the right preventive medications and asthma attack treatments.
Call your doctor about seasonal asthma if you:
- need a rescue inhaler daily, or several times a week
- have a cough that won’t go away
- get dizzy, or feel lightheaded
- take medication that’s unable to control shortness of breath or wheezing
Seek urgent medical care if you:
- develop a blue color on your lips and fingernails
- can’t talk or walk at your normal pace without getting winded
- experience rapid breathing
- experience flaring nostrils upon inhalation
Seasonal asthma is also known as allergic asthma. This condition is caused by allergens and other triggers that occur at specific times of the year.
Pollen is one of the most common causes of seasonal asthma. Different types of pollen may be prevalent during the:
Other triggers for seasonal asthma include hot, humid conditions or cold, dry air.