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How To Breathe Easier With Your Allergies And COPD

Feb 28, 2018 6:44:52 AM / by Duke Reeves

Bee standing on a yellow flower.

Allergy season is a nuisance for anyone who suffers from allergies, but it can be a serious struggle for people who also suffer from COPD. Common allergens like pollen, dust, and mold can not only cause uncomfortable allergic reactions, but they can also irritate your lungs and airways and make it more difficult to breathe.

 

At least one in five people in the US suffer from allergies, and that includes many people who also have COPD. Unfortunately, there hasn't been a lot of research on how the two conditions interact, and there are few official treatment guidelines to help COPD patients manage their allergies.

 

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However, thanks to research from John Hopkins University, we do know that people who suffer from both allergies and COPD are more likely to have worsened symptoms and shortness of breath. They are also more likely to experience exacerbations, which are episodes of increased symptoms that can be serious and even require hospitalization.


Currently, the best known way handle allergies when you have COPD is to treat the symptoms with medication. The best treatment, however, is prevention to keep you from having allergic reactions at all.


If you do your best avoid exposure to pollen, dust, and other allergens, then you can prevent your symptoms from worsening in the first place. That's why, in this guide, we're going to give you a variety of effective tips and techniques to help you keep allergens at bay and prevent them from making your COPD worse.


How Allergies Affect COPD

Pollen on a car windshield.


Seasonal nasal allergies, also known as allergic rhinitis, tend to peak in the summer. However, they can start as early as the spring and last late into the fall, since these warmer months are when plants, mold, fungi, and dust mites thrive.


Some people experience allergies during the winter, too, although it is less common. Most winter allergies come from spending extra time in indoor places with dust and mold.


All of these different factors can trigger respiratory symptoms for the more than 24 million people in the US who suffer from seasonal allergies. But for people who suffer from COPD as well, the pollen, mold spores, and generally poor air quality can actually make their disease worse.


If you suffer from allergies and breathe in allergens like pollen or mold, it triggers the release of histamine that affects your upper and lower respiratory tracts. Histamine causes an inflammatory response, causing irritation, swelling, and increased mucus secretion in the lungs and airways.


Here are some common symptoms associated with seasonal allergies:

  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Nasal and sinus congestion
  • Excess mucus production
  • Coughing and sneezing


As you can see, many allergy symptoms are respiratory symptoms that have the potential to interact or compound with existing symptoms of COPD like coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. For example, an allergic reaction can cause excess mucus production and swelling in the airways, which in turn blocks airflow and makes it even more difficult to breathe.


In extreme cases, this can cause a COPD exacerbation, but even minor allergic reactions can be troublesome. When COPD already makes it difficult to breathe and keep your airways clear of mucus, you can't afford to have allergies making the problem even worse.


If you experience allergy symptoms on a regular basis, especially if you notice that they get worse when you spend time outdoors, you might be suffering from seasonal allergies. You should visit your doctor as soon as possible to get an evaluation so you can find an allergy medication to control your symptoms.


Allergies can be uncomfortable for anyone, but if not properly treated they can be serious and debilitating for people who suffer from other respiratory conditions like COPD. It's important for COPD patients to take any increase in respiratory symptoms seriously, because they can quickly lead to serious complications or exacerbations.


Talk to your doctor about tips and techniques for reducing allergens in your home and keeping your symptoms in check when your allergy triggers can't be avoided. Make sure to follow your COPD treatment plan whenever you experience worsened symptoms, and seek medical attention if they get severe or don't go away.


To prevent your symptoms form getting to that point, continue reading this guide for a multitude of tips and tricks to help you avoid and eliminate allergy triggers this season. We've put together a number of ideas and techniques that will help you keep your home hypo-allergenic and allow you to stay happy, healthy, and comfortable throughout allergy season and the rest of the year.

 

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How to Manage Summer Allergies When You Have COPD

Green forest with tall trees.


Know Your Triggers


Allergens are everywhere; in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and in our carpets, furniture, and clothes. However, how these allergens effect every individual person is different, and some people are more sensitive to certain types of allergens than others.


If you have COPD and suffer from allergies, it's important to talk to your doctor about your symptoms so you can identify the source. Getting an allergy test or keeping a diary of your symptoms can help you narrow down the possibilities and help you better understand what triggers your allergic reactions.


Once you know what's causing your allergies, you can take steps to avoid coming into contact with whatever causes your symptoms. Read all of the tips in this article to learn techniques for doing just that and to find new ideas and inspiration for keeping your allergies at bay.


Check Allergen Reports


There are many places you can check to get information about allergy conditions in your local area on any given day. You can check your local weather report, pollen.com, or other online sources like The Weather Channel to get daily forecasts for the levels of pollen and other particles in the air.


Some allergy reports give detailed information for specific types of pollen, including pollen from trees, grass, and weeds. This can be helpful if you know which specific plants and types of pollen tend to trigger your allergy symptoms.


You can use this information to schedule outdoor activities and plan your exercise on days when pollen levels are lower. When pollen and other allergens are high, it's best to stay indoors as much as possible to keep it from making your COPD worse.


Take Daily Allergy Medication

 

Red and yellow pills.


No matter how hard you try, you're not going to be able to avoid all of your allergy triggers all the time. Your symptoms are bound to act up at least occasionally, and doctors often recommend taking daily allergy medicine all throughout the allergy season to prevent symptoms before they get worse.


If you suffer from allergies and COPD, it's essential to talk to your doctor and get an allergy medication that works for you. If you don't treat your symptoms daily, they can continue to get worse and cause your COPD to flare up.


Many people have to try a few different allergy medications before they find one that effectively treats their symptoms. Make sure to take your medicine as directed and work with your doctor to find a medicine that's effective for you.


Also, remember than many kinds of allergy medications work best when you take them consistently at the same time every day. They are often less effective if you take them irregularly or skip a dose, which can worsen your symptoms and make your allergies more difficult to control.


Stay Indoors When Pollen and Humidity are High

 

Window with light shining in.


Sometimes the best way to avoid allergens is to avoid going outside altogether. Of course, you can't avoid going outdoors all the time, but it's a good idea when the allergy forecast looks bad.


Whenever pollen levels are extremely high, you should try to stay indoors as much as possible. Close all your windows, shut all your doors, and turn on your home ventilation system to control allergy levels in your house.


Humid days can also be a problem, since they tend to encourage mold and dust mites to proliferate. Humidity traps smog and lowers air quality, which can be especially irritating to your lungs and airways if you have COPD.


Take Antihistamines


Even if you take allergy medication daily, your allergy symptoms can still act up for many reasons. Being sick, fatigued, or exposed to allergens on high-pollen and high-humidity days can trigger allergic reactions that take a little extra help to keep at bay.


When this happens, taking an antihistamine like benadryl can give your body the extra help it needs to get over the symptoms. However, use them carefully, because antihistamines can sometimes dry up your mucus, make it thicker, and cause you to have even more trouble breathing.


That's why it's important to talk to your doctor before you use any new medication. Whenever your symptoms get worse, you should always follow your COPD action plan first and consult a medical professional before trying any other medicine.


See a Doctor if Your Allergies Get Out of Hand

 

Doctor speaking to a patient in an exam room.


Sometimes, despite your best efforts to avoid triggers, an allergy attack can hit you out of nowhere. When you have COPD, it's important to seek medical attention right away if your symptoms suddenly worsen and don't get better fast.


Doctors can prescribe you oral or nasal steroids to deal with acute allergy attacks and COPD exacerbations. They can also give you antihistamines, steroid shots, and breathing support if you need them.


Get an Allergy Tracking App for Your Phone


Checking multiple weather and allergy forecasts every day can be bothersome and easy to forget. Luckily, there are a number of great android and iPhone apps you can get that let you track allergy forecasts right on your phone.


Pollen.com has a popular app for both iPhone and android called Allergy Alert that tells you everything you need to know about pollen levels in your area. You can input multiple locations and get accurate 5-day allergy forecasts with detailed information about the types of pollen that are prevalent.


The Allergy Alert app also includes an allergy diary where you can record your daily symptoms and keep track of how your allergies change throughout the season. You can even print out your diary as a chart or calendar to help you and your doctor keep tabs on your symptoms.


Other great allergy apps include WebMD Allergy, Zyrtec AllergyCast, and Allergy Advisor. You can download all of these apps from the Apple or Google app stores.


Allergy-Proof Your Home

 

Person with gloves cleaning a window sill.

Get a Good HVAC Air Filter


All home HVAC ventilation systems include an air filter that has to be cleaned or changed out on a regular basis. Some filters only need to be changed once per season, but others should be swapped out more often, every couple of months or so.


Not all air filters are created equal, and some are much more effective than others at getting out the tiny particles that trigger allergies. Most filters include a MERV rating, which is a standard rating that tells you what kinds of particles a filter can and cannot screen out.


A lower MERV rating is associated with low-quality air filters, while high MERV ratings are given to more effective filters. You should always look for a hypo-allergenic air filter that's fine enough to catch tiny allergens like pollen and mold spores.


Get a Good Air Purifier

 


While a decent HVAC air filter is important for indoor air quality, you can step it up a notch further by getting a mechanical air purifier. These devices use multiple filters and even UV light to remove allergens from the air much more effectively than an HVAC filter alone.


Air purifiers come in a variety of qualities and sizes, and what kind you get depends on your individual needs. You can get a small, portable device for use in a single room or you can even get a large, whole-house air purifier that hooks up to your home's main ventilation.


Some air purifiers are better than others, and their advertising can be deceptive. Look for air purifiers that are certified by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) to ensure that the one you buy can filter common allergens from the air.


HEPA filters are considered to be one of best high-quality air purifiers and is the gold standard for mechanical air filtration. They use multiple filtration steps and can screen out least 99.97% of particles that are 0.3 microns or larger from the air.


Use Smooth Surfaces and Avoid Fabrics

Close-up of a hardwood deck.


Hardwood floors and tile are much easier to clean than carpet, and they don't collect pollen and other particles like carpet fibers do. Likewise, decorating with fabrics like curtains and rugs provides more places in your home for allergens to build up.


To prevent bothersome allergens and harmful irritants from hanging around your home, make sure to vacuum and dust all surfaces in your house regularly. Don't forget little-used areas like basements and closets, and consider getting rid of rugs, curtains, and other items that attract dust.


It can also help to furnish your house with couches, chairs, and other furniture that won't collect allergens. Wood, leather, and other similar materials are easy to wipe clean, while soft fabrics attract pollen and dust and are difficult to clean thoroughly.


Rinse Off after Being Outside

Close-up of shower head with water coming out.


It's a good idea to take a shower or a quick rinse when you arrive home after being outdoors. Especially if you've been near a lot of grass, trees, or other foliage, you could be carrying a large amount of pollen and mold spores on your person.


But if you take the time to rinse the allergens out of your hair and skin, you'll avoid carrying them around with you throughout the day. It will also prevent you from scattering allergens about your home where they can build up and make your symptoms worse for days.


Change Clothes When You Come Indoors

 

Stack of clothing.


Pollen and other allergens tend to stick to your clothes and shoes when you spend any extended amount of time outdoors. Especially if you don't have time to shower, you should change into a fresh set of clothes so you don't track allergens all throughout your house.


De-clutter and Deep Clean


Dust mites, mold, pollen, and other allergens can hide in any nook and cranny. That's why it's important to do a thorough, deep cleaning at least a couple times a year, especially if you suffer from allergies.


Your deep clean should include removing any clutter and cleaning behind furniture, cabinets, and other belongings. You don't want to leave any stone unturned, that way you start out with the cleanest, most allergy-free space possible.


You should also extend your deep cleaning to other spaces you spend time in, like your car and garage.  Clear out any clutter, vacuum your car seats and mats, and don't forget to wash the outside, too.


Replace the Cabin Air Filter in Your Car


If you have a long commute or take extended trips in your car, having a clean cabin air filter can improve your allergy symptoms. The cabin air filter traps particles from the air that flows through your car's ventilation system, and you should replace it often during the summer when it collects extra pollen and mold.


How often you should do this depends on your car, and your owner's manual will help you figure out the exact time frame. However, as a general rule, the Car Care Council recommends changing out your cabin air filter at least every 12,000 to 15,000 miles you drive.


Dust and Vacuum Regularly

Vacuum


A good air filter or purifier will remove most allergens from the air in your house, but it can't do anything about the dust, pollen, and mold spores that settle on the surfaces in your home. To get rid of all that, you have to dust, vacuum, and sweep regularly.


Don't forget to clean out-of-the-way spaces like high cabinets, closets, corners, rugs and drapes. These are common places where dust and mold tend to collect that people commonly overlook when cleaning.


Check Problem Areas for Mold and Mildew

 Mold on the walls of a home.
Image courtesy of carlpenergy on Flickr.


There are certain places in houses that tend to have a higher risk of mold build-up. These include basements, bathrooms, attics, crawl spaces, and any areas that might get damp.


You should inspect these areas in your home somewhat regularly to spot mold and mildew growth before it gets out of control. Some mold spots can be cleaned yourself by hand, but you might need to call in a professional for larger problems.


It's also important to identify and repair any leaks in your pipes so they don't cause mold to grow in your walls. If you notice your allergies are acting up in your house, getting it thoroughly inspected for mold and fungus by a professional could help you find and take care of any problems.


Promptly Clean Damp Spots


Water mishaps are not uncommon occurrences in homes. You can never predict when a faucet will burst or a heavy storm will flood your basement.


What you can do, however, is make sure to clean up any spills, floods, or other damp spots as quickly as possible after they happen. If any area remains damp for more than 48 hours, you're almost certain to get mold growth.

 

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Control the Humidity in Your Home

Window with condensation on it.


When the humidity in your house climbs higher than sixty percent, the chance for mold growth greatly increases. That's why you should try to keep your home's humidity levels between thirty and fifty percent.


You can do this by using a dehumidifier when the weather is especially humid outside. You can get small, portable dehumidifiers that work for a single room, or you can invest in whole-house units that pull moisture out of all the air in your home.


Running the air conditioner in the summer is another effective way to reduce moisture in the air, as long as the humidity isn't too high. It also helps to vent appliances like dishwashers and dryers outdoors, and to make sure you always open your window or turn on your vent fan when you take a shower.


Wash and Groom Your Pets

Dog in bathtub being washed by its owner.


If you have pets, they can be a major contributor to your allergies. It's important to wash and groom them regularly to reduce the amount of allergens they bring into your house.


When dogs and cats go outside, all kinds of pollen, dust, and mold spores that are in the grass and in the air stick to their fur. When they come inside, all of those allergens are transferred from their fur onto any carpet, clothes, and furniture they come in contact with.


Giving your pets baths and brushing them regularly helps prevent these allergens from building up in their fur and causing your allergies to act up. It also helps to keep your pets off of your furniture and bedding, so you won't be sitting and sleeping in places where your pets have tracked pollen.


Get a HEPA Vacuum Cleaner


A regular old vacuum can get a lot of the pollen, dust, and other allergens out of your carpet and furniture, but it can only do so much. Sometimes vacuuming can even scatter these particles into the air and actually make your allergies worse.


In order to allergy-proof your home more effectively, you can get a vacuum with a HEPA filter that removes at least 99.97 percent of particles that are 0.3 microns or larger. A regular vacuum can only filter particles that are 50 microns or larger.


Just make sure you get a HEPA filter-compatible vacuum that's large enough to fit the size of your home. Otherwise, you'll end up having to change the filter quite often in order to keep it working properly.


Conclusion


When you have COPD, any problems that affect your respiratory tract and make it difficult to breathe are automatically more serious. Even minor allergies can lead to worsened coughing, wheezing, and breathlessness associated with COPD.

Fortunately, it is totally possible to take control over your allergies and keep yourself healthy during allergy season. It just requires some extra cleaning, extra planning, and arming yourself with the right equipment to keep allergens out of your home.

The relationship between allergies and COPD is still not completely understood, and doctors are still trying to gather more research and information on this topic. But for now, treating symptoms with medication and avoiding the allergens that trigger them are the best way to handle allergies when you have COPD.

If you use the techniques in this guide you'll be able to better protect your lungs and airways from allergy-triggering particles like like pollen, mold, and dust. You'll be able to breathe easier, feel better, and enjoy life even when allergy season is in full swing.

Topics: COPD, Respiratory Resource Center, Tips and Hacks

Duke Reeves

Written by Duke Reeves

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