May is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness month, put forth by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). Spring marks peak season for allergy sufferers, and asthma patients. May 6th was World Asthma Day, and the goal of the month is to raise awareness for asthma and allergic diseases. Lung disease is closely tied with asthma, allergies and air quality.
The Connection between Asthma and COPD
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a separate condition from asthma, but it can be hard to distinguish the symptoms. Asthma is a chronic disease of the lungs where the airways become blocked or narrowed, causing difficulty breathing. There are two varying types of asthma, allergic and non-allergic. On the other hand, COPD is a progressive lung disease characterized by difficulty breathing due to damage in the lungs. However, asthma and COPD are closely tied. There are many similarities between the two including:
- Chronic inflammation of the airways and airflow limitation
- Shortness of breath
- Viral infections and adverse reactions to smoke, tobacco and pollution exposure
Many patients with chronic asthma can develop airway remodeling that causes airflow obstruction, or COPD. Airway remodeling occurs in patients with severe asthma that is not under control. When asthma goes untreated, it can cause scarring in the lungs, leading to asthma medications not working as well and less air coming in the lungs. Airway remodeling can lead to COPD. Patients who develop COPD will need to keep treating the inflammation of their airway, and add more treatment to manage COPD symptoms and retain lung function. But, airway remodeling is a preventable condition. If you have asthma, make sure it is under control with your pulmonologist. If you experience an asthma attack, treat it or seek medical help. Monitor your symptoms and try to avoid asthma triggers.
Allergies and COPD
The other observance of National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month is seasonal allergies. These are caused by allergens in the air. The immune system is reacting to allergens that act as triggers. Allergies can occur indoors and outdoors. However, outdoor seasonal allergy triggers are most common in the springtime and include trees, grass, weed pollen and mold spores. For people with COPD and lung disease, seasonal allergies can spell trouble. Studies have shown that allergies can increase the frequency and severity of respiratory problems in people with COPD and other lung disease. Many people with COPD can expect their symptoms to worsen during seasonal allergy season, which is occurring now. Postnasal drip, a common part of seasonal allergies, can stimulate nerves in the back of the nose, which aggravates coughing and COPD symptoms. You can talk to your pulmonologist about adding an antihistamine to your routine to deal with seasonal allergies, or try staying indoors more. Check out the AAFA’s list of the worst cities for seasonal allergies and see if your city is listed. Or you can also look at the daily allergy report, which includes pollen levels, on Accuweather.com.