Allergists predict seeing a number of new asthma cases this spring. That’s because of the link between allergies and asthma. Allergies are a common trigger for asthma.
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This past winter was unusually wet, which means a brief, intense pollen release this spring – and a bad allergy season. Whenever the pollen count goes up, so does the number of new asthma cases.
First-time asthma episodes
We were in a similar situation a year ago, says Rachel Szekely MD. Dr. Szekely is an allergist and immunologist in the Department of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine at Cleveland Clinic.
“Last year because the pollen counts were so high and the allergy seasons were bad, many of my allergy patients developed asthma symptoms for the first time,” Dr. Szekely says. “So now they have a new diagnosis of asthma.”
Some people are genetically pre-disposed to asthma, Dr. Szekely says. But the point at which asthma emerges varies from person to person.
Sensitive to irritants
Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the lung’s airways. When breathing is normal, the bands of muscle that surround the airways relax and air moves freely. During an asthma episode, changes occur in the muscles or the airway lining and air can no longer move easily.
People who develop asthma are typically more sensitive to irritants in the airway. This is why allergy season often is troublesome.
Doctors sometimes find it tricky to diagnose asthma at this time of the year, Dr. Szekely says. Many patients may have asthma, but their symptoms are not serious.
“They say, ‘Well, I’ve never had an asthma attack. I haven’t been to the hospital because of my asthma,’ ” Dr. Szekely says. “That’s actually a good thing. But even just a chronic cough many times is a symptom of asthma and you should get that checked out.”
Asthma symptoms are not the same for everyone. They can even change from episode to episode in the same person. You may have only one symptom of asthma, while someone else may have all the symptoms.
The most common symptoms include:
- Coughing, especially at night
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness, pain, or pressure
Dr. Szekely says that if you develop a cough or other symptoms of asthma that last longer than seven to 10 days, it’s a good idea to call your doctor.
To diagnose asthma, your doctor will first review your medical history, family history and symptoms. The doctor then will perform a physical examination and listen to your heart and lungs.
The doctor also may order breathing tests, allergy tests, blood tests, and chest and sinus X-rays. The tests also can show if there are other conditions are contributing.
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