Seasonal asthma is a chronic condition that can make it hard to breathe. Triggers include exposure to irritants, allergens, or other environmental factors. Symptoms can be managed by making lifestyle changes or medical treatments.
There’s no such thing as allergy season when it comes to asthma. That’s right! Allergic asthma (aka seasonal asthma) can strike year-round.
Here’s a rundown of the most common causes and symptoms of seasonal asthma. We also have some asth-mazing treatment tips and ways to reduce your risk of a flare-up.
Different types of allergens pop up at certain times of the year. Seasonal asthma is an unfortunate symptom of your body’s heroic attempt to fight these allergens.
Additionally, climate and other weather factors can play a big part in asthma symptom severity and flare-up frequency.
Here are the deets.
Pollen is one of the most common causes of seasonal allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). These tiny plant particles can also trigger asthma. Just keep in mind that not all pollen is the same. There are different types of pollen that spike at different times in the year.
- Tree pollen. In the United States, tree pollen tends to be the first type of pollen to appear each year. Most stateside trees produce pollen from March to May. But in hotter climates, it can start earlier and peak throughout the year.
- Grass pollen. Grass pollen usually pops up in the late spring or early summer. But like tree pollen, grass pollen might start earlier if you live in a hotter area like the South.
- Weed pollen. About 15 percent of peeps are allergic to ragweed pollen. Pollen from weeds usually makes its grand debut in the late summer and decreases in mid-to-late fall. *sniffles*
Cold, dry air
Cold, dry air can cause bronchoconstriction. That’s a fancy way of saying cold air makes your airways narrow. This can trigger asthma symptoms if you like chilling in chilly weather. But your symptoms might be even worse if you work out in cold weather.
Your body uses more oxygen when you exercise. To be specific, research shows you breathe about 15 times a minute (12 liters of air) when you’re resting and 40 to 60 times a minute (100 liters of air) when you’re working out. All that extra breathing can be tough enough if you have asthma, but narrowing airways def don’t help.
Heat and humidity
Asthma narrows your airways. This can make breathing in humid air even more difficult. According to a 2018 study, the effects might be worse when you’re exercising.
But wait, there’s more! Humidity can also make air stagnant which traps allergens like dust mites, smoke, and pollen. Ugh.
Mold and mildew
Mold loves damp places like pipes and window seals. Breathing in these moldy spores is a common asthma trigger. If you live in a place that experiences hot and cold months, you’ll prob notice more mold in the winter. But if you live in an area that’s hot most of the year, mold can get worse during humid months.
Go with us on this one. Pollen grains can absorb moisture. When they absorb too much moisture, they burst open and release into the air. Thunderstorms during peak pollen months provide the moisture and high winds to create a perfect storm of symptoms for seasonal asthma peeps.
Up to 50 percent of adult asthma and 80 percent of childhood asthma is exacerbated by allergies, according to a 2020 study. This can lead to annoying AF symptoms like:
- a dry, itchy throat
- sore, watery, or itchy eyes
- congestion or a runny nose
Asthma symptoms tend to affect the respiratory system a lot more than nasal allergies do. Common symptoms include:
- chest tightness
- difficulty breathing
- shortness of breath
- coughing when you sleep, exercise, or laugh
PSA: Asthma attacks can be a scary situation. A severe asthma episode can make it feel like an elephant is sitting on your chest. Well, maybe not an elephant. But it can make it very hard to breathe. Attacks can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours.
Asthma treatments depend on how severe your symptoms are. Mild symptoms might just need a little TLC while serious symptoms can require immediate medical attention. Here’s the 411.
- Combination inhalers. Combination inhalers can contain a combo of an anti-inflammatory corticosteroid and a beta-agonist. This one-two punch can help open your airways. Inhalers are also great because they’re compact and easy to carry around.
- Rescue inhalers. These are those little plastic inhalers peeps keep with them in case symptoms get worse. They work by widening the airways when you’re having an asthma attack. They usually relieve symptoms for up to a few hours.
- Inhaled corticosteroids. Corticosteroids lower the amount of mucus in your airways and reduce inflammation. They can be taken via a nebulizer, metered-dose inhaler, or dry powder inhaler. Some folks need to use them on the daily while others only need them when symptoms pop up.
- Immunotherapy. Also called allergy shots, immunotherapy is a long-term treatment that slowly exposes you to an allergen. The idea is that your body will produce antibodies making you more tolerant to the allergen, so you’ll be less allergic to it over time.
- Leukotriene modifiers. Leukotrienes are inflammatory chemicals your bod produces after coming into contact with an allergen. They’re meant to regulate immune responses, but they’re also responsible for restricting your airways and producing mucus. Depending on the severity of your asthma, you might be given tablets to regulate the way your body responds to leukotrienes.
- Mast cell stabilizers. You’ve got mast cells all throughout your body. The ones in your lungs can potentially release histamine and those pesky leukotrienes when they encounter an allergen. That leads to asthma symptoms, which worsen when more allergens are around. Mast cell stabilizers will (surprise!) stabilize your mast cells so they don’t release as many inflammatories.
You can ease your asthma symptoms year-round by making a few tiny tweaks to your routine.
- Stay indoors when the pollen count is high. This is generally around dawn and early morning. If you’re fond of an early workout, consider switching to the evenings during the pollen season.
- Get yourself checked for pet allergies. Even a mild allergy can make asthma symptoms worse at certain times of the year. Keep furry friends out of the bedroom and living room to give yourself a low-allergen zone.
- Allergy-proof your bed. Use hypoallergenic covers on pillows, duvets, and mattresses. Wash your sheets weekly and switch out your pillowcases often.
- Examine your home for leaks. Cracks in pipework, windows, and air ducts can allow allergens to creep into your home. A little bit of DIY could potentially save you trouble during allergen season.
- Keep it clean. Step up your cleaning game during the months your allergies flare up. Steam clean carpets and break out the air purifier.
- Watch the humidity. The Environmental Protection Agency suggests you keep your home’s humidity level between 30–50 percent to discourage dust mites from setting up shop. Lower humidity levels might also make it easier for you to breathe in general.
If you’re a seasoned seasonal asthma pro — and if your symptoms are mild — you might not need to see a doctor on the reg. But you should talk with a healthcare professional if you’re dealing with asthma for the first time. You should also see a doc if you:
- have a chronic cough
- feel lightheaded or dizzy
- wheeze when you sleep, laugh, or workout
- need to use a rescue inhaler multiple times a week
- notice your regular asthma medication becomes less effective over time
When to seek medical attention ASAP
Asthma attacks are very serious and may require immediate medical attention. Get help ASAP if you:
- feel like you can’t breathe
- lips or fingernails take on a blue tint
- nostrils flare whenever you breathe in
- breathing becomes rapid or hard to control
- feel like you have a heavy weight on your chest
Seasonal asthma can happen year-round and there are lots of different factors that can trigger symptoms. This includes hot and humid climates, cold and dry weather, and allergens like dust mites, mold, and pollen.
Asthma treatments depend on how serious your symptoms are. Common options include inhalers, immunotherapy, mast cell stabilizers, inhaled corticosteroids, or leukotriene modifiers. Your doc can help you figure out which combo of meds will work best for your unique needs.
You can also try to avoid an asthma flare-up by making some minor changes to your daily routine. Try not to work out in cold or humid weather since these climates can make it harder to breathe. You should also keep your house as clean as you can to remove as many allergens as possible.