What Is Seasonal Asthma?

Asthma is an inflammatory condition that affects the smaller lung airways, making breathing hard. It's usually caused by an exaggerated allergic reaction to environmental substances like pollen, mold, chemicals, and dust mites. Asthma can also result from other factors such as cold, heartburn, smoke, exercise, and pungent smell. 

About 25 million Americans¹ are asthmatic. This is about one person in 13 people. There are different types of asthma, including allergic asthma, seasonal asthma, occupation asthma, and non-allergic asthma.

In this post, we are going to discuss seasonal asthma in detail. 

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What is seasonal asthma?

Seasonal asthma is a type of asthma triggered by allergens that occur at a specific time of the year. For example, if you're allergic to cold, surviving through winter might be a challenge since the cold, dry air you will be breathing can irritate your airways, leading to asthmatic symptoms. 

Symptoms of seasonal asthma 

Seasonal asthma can lead to symptoms such as:

  • Nasal congestion 

  • Scratchy throat 

  • Sneezing 

  • Runny nose

  • Itchy, red, and watery eyes 

These are just the common symptoms you might experience. Other symptoms that you might experience include the following: 

Shortness of breath

This is described as a subjective sensation that makes it difficult to breathe. This usually results from getting inadequate air in or out, taking more effort than usual to breathe. Some people have described a sensation of chest tightness. 

Frequent coughing 

Frequent coughing is usually a chronic cough that lasts for 6 to 8 weeks and usually occurs after exercising or exposure to allergens and more commonly at night. It's different from other coughs since it doesn't expel mucus or phlegm from the lungs. This is referred to as non-productive or dry cough.  

However, there are common triggers for asthma cough, including:

  • Outdoor allergens such as weeds, trees, and grass

  • Colds and flu 

  • Certain food additives and drugs 

  • Irritants in the air 

Wheezing 

This refers to a high-pitched whistling sound that's produced while breathing. For people with asthma, wheezing occurs when breathing out. 

It's usually followed by other classic symptoms such as chest tightness, chronic cough, and shortness of breath. 

Chest tightness 

If you're experiencing chest tightness due to asthma, you will feel you can't easily push air in and out of your chest. You may experience mild chest tightness all or most of the time, which worsens when there are asthma triggers around you. 

You may experience the following symptoms concerning chest tightness:

  • Feeling as if the chest is constricted and there's a band around it 

  • Feeling as if you're pushing against your chest from the inside while breathing 

  • Difficulty while exhaling or breathing out

  • Difficulty while inhaling or breathing in 

Causes of seasonal asthma

Seasonal asthma can be caused by different allergens that occur in different seasons. It can also result from weather changes. When you're allergic to something, your body perceives that thing as an invader and attacks it through the immune system.

To respond to these allergens, the immune system produces immunoglobulin, which are antibodies that trigger histamine release when the allergens activate it. This might impact their airways and lungs, leading to asthmatic symptoms for someone with asthma. 

Some common asthma triggers include:

Pollen 

Pollen is one of the major causes of seasonal asthma. Every season has different types of pollen that can trigger asthmatic symptoms. However, the specificity of the pollen depends on the type of outdoor greenery of your residence. 

Here's a breakdown of the type of pollen that might affect you during specific seasons:

Tree pollen (Spring) 

Tree pollen is usually the first type of pollen to appear every year. This is common with most stateside trees that produce pollen from March to May. 

However, these trees might start producing pollen earlier and continue in places with hotter climates. Common trees whose pollen can cause asthmatic allergies are:

  • Walnut

  • Beech 

  • Ash 

  • Alder

  • Maple

  • Cottonwood

  • Cedar

  • Box elder

  • Hickory

  • Poplar 

Grass Pollen (Summer)

Grass pollen is common in late spring or early summer. You might start seeing them earlier if you live in hotter areas. 

Common grasses whose pollen can cause seasonal asthma include:

  • Fescue

  • Johnson 

  • Bahia

  • Kentucky blue

  • Timothy

  • Bermuda 

Ragweed pollen (Fall) 

Ragweed makes up about 15% of the types of pollen that causes seasonal asthma. Apart from ragweed, other types of weed that can cause asthmatic symptoms include:

  • Cocklebur

  • Mugwort

  • Burning bush

  • Lamb's - quarter

  • Russian thistle 

  • Tumbleweed

  • Sagebrush 

Mold and mildew

Mold and mildew are fungi that are available any time of the year. However, specific types of molds spread during dry, windy weather. Others spread during damp and humid weather. Most people with seasonal asthma react to them during the summer and early fall. 

You should note that exposure to specific environments, regardless of the year, can still create exposure to mold and mildew. They are found indoors and outdoors and can be impacted by weather and lifestyle choices. For instance, hiking in damp, wooded areas during summer or fall can expose you to mold lurking under the logs and weeds. 

Hot weather 

Many people think that asthma symptoms worsen during winter, but the hot summer weather can also trigger symptoms in some people. 

This results from the following possible reasons: 

  • Breathing hot air that narrows the airways, leading to shortness of breath and coughing 

  • The presence of pollutants in the air 

Cold weather 

When it's cold, especially in winter, people remain indoors with their windows closed. This enhances their exposure to indoor allergens such as pet dander, mold, cockroaches, and dust mites. 

Spending time outside during cold weather can also trigger asthma. The cold, dry air that you breathe dries out and irritates the airways, leading to asthmatic symptoms. 

Complications of seasonal asthma 

Seasonal asthma can cause both medical and lifestyle complications. Here's a breakdown of these two effects:

Effects on flu 

People with asthma can have a severe reaction to flu since asthma causes a blockage to the airways, swelling or inflaming them. 

Flu can also trigger an asthma attack and other respiratory infections like pneumonia. 

Chronic inflammation 

Chronic inflammation in the airway can cause airway remodeling, referring to a change in the structure of the airways, including the muscles, epithelial tissues, and glands. Consequently, the airway becomes less elastic and thicker, worsening the swelling. 

Respiratory failure 

Dangerous complications can arise when an asthmatic person doesn't get the right treatment after a severe attack or doesn't respond to the treatment. It causes chronic inflammation to block air from passing into the lungs. 

This causes difficulty breathing and death if there's no emergency treatment available. 

Sleep difficulty 

Certain asthma medications can cause insomnia. Some people usually experience more symptoms while asleep, making it difficult to get quality sleep. As a result, they end up tired, affecting their concentration at school or work. 

Poor physical activity

Some people with asthma find it challenging to engage in exercise or other physical activity since they're worried that it might trigger an asthma attack. This puts them at risk of medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis.² 

Treatment for seasonal asthma 

When it comes to treating seasonal asthma, your choice of treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms you're experiencing. Mild symptoms might require a little TLC, while severe symptoms require immediate medical intervention. 

Here are some of the treatments you can consider:

Rescue or relief medication 

Your doctor may prescribe different medications to control your asthma attack. This includes oral corticosteroids and inhaled bronchodilators for severe cases. 

Inhaled corticosteroids 

These are cortisone-like medicines used to prevent asthma symptoms. They are used to decrease the rate and severity of asthma attacks but cannot relieve asthma attacks that have already started.  

Combination inhaler

A combination inhaler contains a combination of a beta-agonist and an anti-inflammatory corticosteroid. This combination can help open your airways. They are also easy to use since inhalers are compact and easy to carry around.

Leukotriene modifier

Your body produces a chemical known as leukotrienes once you contact an allergen. They are used to regulate your immune response, but they can also trigger mucus production and restrict your airways. 

Your doctor might prescribe leukotriene modifiers to manage your reaction to these allergens. However, the kind of medication they will prescribe depends on the severity of your asthma. 

Mast cell stabilizer 

The mast cells in the lungs release histamine and leukotrienes after encountering an allergen, leading to asthma symptoms. These may worsen when there are allergens around. Mast stabilizers will stabilize your mast cells to avoid releasing inflammatories. 

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy or allergy shots are sometimes recommended as part of your seasonal asthma treatment. It slows down your reaction to allergens, reducing your reaction over time. 

Immunotherapy treatment can continue for up to five years and stopped. To some people, the lasting remission of their allergy symptoms can relapse after the therapy is discontinued. Therefore, the duration of the therapy varies from one person to the other. 

How to manage seasonal asthma

Managing seasonal asthma can limit or reduce allergens that may trigger an allergic reaction. Some ways you can avoid these allergens include:

Know whether you have pet allergies

Mild allergens like your furry friend's fur can trigger an asthmatic attack. Therefore, if you're unsure about this, check whether you're allergic to fur before you decide to keep a pet. 

Stay indoors when there's a high pollen count

The pollen count usually rises in the morning and peaks at midday or early in the afternoon. Therefore, if you love having an early workout, switch to evenings when the pollen count is low. 

Proof your bed from allergens

There are hypoallergenic covers, mattresses, duvets, and pillows available for people with allergies. Get yourself these products, and make a point of washing the sheets in hot water every week and switching the pillowcase more often. 

Look out for leaks

Windows, air ducts, and cracks in the pipework can allow allergens to creep into your house. You should repair these components to save yourself the trouble of dealing with asthma attacks during the allergen seasons. 

Keep your environment clean 

It's crucial to step up your cleaning when there are high chances of allergies flaring up. The best way to do this is by steam cleaning your carpets and breaking out the air purifier. Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to keep the allergens in the bag and prevent recirculating them into the room. 

Keep a close eye on the humidity

Your house's humidity level should be between 40–50 percent to avoid dust mites from setting up. Maintaining a low humidity level also makes it easier to breathe. 

Apart from the measures provided above, you can adopt the following measures to manage seasonal asthma:

  • Steam clean your carpet to kill off dust mites 

  • Wash your bedding, including the mattress protectors and pillows, often with hot water 

  • Once there's a cold air trigger, cover your nose with a scarf to humidify the air 

Can seasonal asthma be prevented?

Not really. You can only reduce the symptoms since it's impossible to do away with allergens in the air. However, it will be helpful to identify potential allergens released during specific seasons to help in the management of your asthmatic symptoms. 

It would be best to minimize going outside when there are allergens present in the environment or when there are conditions that favor them. It's easier for the allergens to be trapped and circulated when it's too cold, too hot, or too dry, making it easy to breathe into your lungs. 

When to visit a doctor

It would be best to visit a doctor the first time you notice the asthmatic symptoms described above. If you've been diagnosed and learned how to deal with it, you should present to the emergency room if you start experiencing the following symptoms:

  • Unable to breathe

  • Your lips and fingernails have started turning blue

  • Your nostrils flare up while breathing 

  • Breathing becomes more rapid and hard to control 

  • You feel as if you have a heavy weight on your chest 

  • Get dizzy or start feeling lightheaded 

You should also visit a doctor for regular checkups and monitoring of your asthmatic symptoms. 

The lowdown 

Seasonal asthma can occur any time of the year. Your doctor can prescribe different treatments, such as bronchodilators, inhaled corticosteroids, leukotriene modifiers, and stabilizers to manage your symptoms. 

It's also crucial to manage asthma flare-ups in your environment and make minor changes to your routine. With these, you'll be better positioned to manage your asthmatic symptoms as best as you can.

  1. Asthma facts and figures | Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

  2. What people with asthma need to know about osteoporosis | National Institute of Health

Other sources:

Have you considered clinical trials for Asthma?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Asthma, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
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