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What is summer asthma and how do I manage it?

September 2, 2022 • read

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What is summer asthma and how do I manage it?

Asthma doesn’t always stay stable — it’s highly sensitive to what’s going on around you. If you have it, you probably find that everything from air quality to the season can affect your symptoms. The weather especially can have an outsized effect on your asthma.

For some, this means that their condition gets a lot worse in the summertime. Here’s why asthma flares up in the summer and what you can do about it.

Do heat and high humidity trigger asthma during summer?

It’s clear that breathing in frigid temperatures and dry air can induce an asthma attack. That doesn’t mean, however, that hot and humid weather is better. Temperatures at both ends of the spectrum can be an issue, and hot and humid air triggers asthma for many in summer. There’s even a term for this — asthma that worsens in the summer months due to heat and humidity is sometimes called summer asthma.

Beyond the temperature, additional factors can cause your condition to flare up during the warmer months. Pollution and poor air quality also have a role to play. Increases in ozone levels — aka smog — are particularly high in summer, and they can be harsh on your lungs.

Add in climate issues like smoke from forest fires and you’ve got a serious air quality situation. And, since warmer months often mean spending more time outside, you’re more likely to encounter these irritants for longer periods of time.

If you’re finding that summer makes your asthma symptoms flare up, Maple can help. Maple lets you connect with a Canadian-licensed doctor in minutes from your phone, tablet, or computer.

What is allergy-induced asthma and why does it happen during summer?

When your body responds to an allergen, it triggers an overzealous immune response to an otherwise harmless substance. This allergic reaction generates the release of immunoglobulin E (IgE), spurring inflammation and typical allergy symptoms.

If you have seasonal asthma, this allergic response can also set off your asthma. Yes, unfortunately, this means that allergies can make asthma worse. Because allergies are the underlying cause of allergy-induced asthma, food allergies and even topical reactions (from a sunscreen, for example) can spark symptoms in some people.

The most common causes of allergy asthma, however, are seasonal allergies, or allergic rhinitis. These often kick off as soon as the weather warms as tree and grass pollen, and molds from decaying plant matter start to circulate. If you experience allergy-induced asthma, your response to these allergens might include wheezing, shortness of breath, tightness in your chest, and breathing problems. Your symptoms might be mild, but they can also be severe, and in some cases can become life-threatening.

Tips to reduce asthma symptoms in summer

Having asthma doesn’t mean an end to summer fun. It’s possible to both enjoy those sun-drenched days and reduce the risk of triggering your symptoms. Here’s how:

  • If you have difficulty breathing in the humidity and heat, plan your outdoor activities for earlier in the morning or later in the evening when temperatures are lower
  • If hot temperatures are an issue for your asthma, focus on keeping cool — try swimming, taking frequent cool-down breaks, and consider staying in when it’s scorching outside
  • Check your local Air Quality Health Index to assess the air quality near you
  • If pollen is a trigger for you, check your local pollen forecast and stay inside with windows and doors closed on days where the pollen count is high
  • If you do go outside on high pollen days, shower and change your clothes when you return home
  • Stay away from plants that trigger your asthma symptoms — this means no mowing the lawn or gardening
  • Use a HEPA filter in your home to remove potential allergens from your indoor air
  • Change your furnace filter regularly
  • Control indoor allergens to make sure they’re not making things worse — clean frequently to reduce the likelihood of common allergens like mold, dust, and cockroach poop (yup, you read that right)
  • Tamp down on humidity in your home with a dehumidifier
  • Carry your emergency, or reliever, puffer with you at all times

Is it ok to exercise if I have summer asthma?

Yes! It’s ok to exercise even if your asthma worsens in the summer, as long as you take appropriate precautions. On days where the air quality is low, the pollen count is high, or it’s just too darn hot, confine your fitness routine to the indoors.

If you know that exercise brings on your asthma symptoms, you likely have a plan of action when it comes to physical activity. In this case — and if your doctor has signed off on it — take your controller puffer about 10 minutes before starting your routine. And no matter what, make sure that your reliever inhaler is on hand while you’re exercising.

Most people with this lung condition are able to lead healthy and active lives. If, however, you find that exercising leaves you gasping for breath, or that your lips or fingernails are turning blue, it’s a medical emergency. In this case, dial 911 and stay in a public place. Don’t go off to a bathroom or other private area in this state.

How can I prevent asthma attacks during summer?

While you might not be able to prevent every one, you can reduce your chances of having a summer asthma attack. Here’s how:

  • Take all asthma medications as prescribed. This should be part of your asthma plan — a document detailing how often to take your “normal” or controller puffer, and how frequently and under what circumstances you should take your rescue inhaler.
  • If you find that you’re using either inhaler more frequently, talk to your healthcare provider about your options. Your current regimen might not be meeting your needs.
  • Understand what your triggers are. If you don’t know what’s causing your reactions you can’t avoid it. Consider allergy testing if you suspect allergies play a role in your summer asthma attacks.
  • Take note of your attacks to track any patterns or changes in them
  • Avoid your triggers. Whether it’s seasonal allergens, hot, or humid weather, limit your outdoor time on unfavourable days to avoid weather-related asthma attacks.
  • If you do go out on poor air quality days, consider wearing an N95 or KN95 mask to filter particulates out of the air you’re breathing
  • Discuss treatment of any seasonal allergies with a healthcare provider

Treatments for summer asthma and allergy-induced asthma

Treating summer and allergy-induced asthma involves both traditional asthma treatments and additional options. Here are some of them:

1. Inhaled corticosteroids are usually the first line of treatment for asthma. These drugs work by stopping the inflammation in your lungs that makes it hard to breathe during an attack. If you don’t have a combination inhaler, one of these corticosteroids is likely what’s in your puffer canister.

2. Combination inhalers are another typical asthma treatment, this time involving two components. One is a corticosteroid to inhibit inflammation, and the other is a bronchodilator. Bronchodilators are a type of medication that relaxes the muscles around your lungs and airway. This keeps them from contracting and restricting your breathing.

3. Long-acting muscarinic antagonists (LAMAs) and long-lasting beta-agonists (LABAs) may sound like science fiction terms, but they’re actually types of long-lasting bronchodilators. LAMAs and LABAs are meant to be effective for 12 to 24 hours — longer than the four hours of relief a typical puffer will give you. They’re taken via puffer in conjunction with a corticosteroid, and usually recommended for those with severe, uncontrolled asthma.

4. Leukotriene modifiers are an oral medication your healthcare provider might prescribe for your asthma. They’re a preventative tool, which means you take them daily, even when you’re not experiencing symptoms. Leukotrienes are chemicals your body releases to spur inflammation as part of its immune system response. Leukotriene modifiers inhibit this inflammatory response, which can help with both asthma and allergy symptoms.

5. In some cases, especially if you have severe allergic reactions, you may want to consider immunotherapy. Immunotherapy involves introducing your body to minuscule quantities of your allergen. As your body adjusts and learns to tolerate these minute amounts, you’re given larger and larger doses until you can safely tolerate the allergen without reacting to it.

While the concept seems simple, immunotherapy is a precise and painstaking process. It’s definitely not something to attempt without medical supervision.

If you think that allergies play a role in your asthma symptoms, seeing an allergist online is a great idea. Allergists can take your medical history, provide prescriptions, and order additional testing if necessary. They can also help you determine if you’re a good candidate for immunotherapy.

There’s no cure for asthma, but it can be managed. Treatment goals are to optimize control of your symptoms – both day and night, and minimize future risk. If you feel that your current asthma action plan isn’t cutting it, or if you don’t yet have a plan, you likely need more support. Poorly controlled asthma in summer — or any time of year — can leave you exhausted and gasping for breath. See a doctor online today to take control of your asthma treatment and start breathing easy.

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