ST. LOUIS - Due to seasonal allergies, St. Louis is a notoriously challenging city for children and adults with asthma during the spring and fall months. Summer might be seen as a time of reprieve. With low tree and grass pollen counts and a seasonal reduction in cold and flu viruses, patients often look forward to being able to reduce their daily asthma therapies while still being able to spend more time outdoors.
However, asthma may actually be worse during the summer. Intermittent thunderstorms and hot weather create ideal conditions for outdoor molds. Spending more time outdoors playing, hiking, camping and gardening will place the susceptible adult or child at risk. Respiratory viral infections aren’t completely absent either. Although they may not be as active as typical wintertime germs, the common cold virus is actually the most common trigger for asthma problems in older children and adults.
During the summer, kids are also more likely to be involved in activities such as summer camps where they aren’t supervised by people who know their medical histories or who are trained to treat appropriately in an emergency. Sports camps can be extremely dangerous when an overly enthusiastic coach is trying to motivate a child who might be feeling “winded.” The situation is made worse by our extremely hot Midwest summers.
Since asthma is a chronic inflammatory condition, it’s important to recognize a person with asthma always has asthma even when they are not having symptoms. It’s merely a matter of exposure to their triggers. Knowing what a child’s triggers are is very important in preventing an asthma attack. Triggers for all asthma patients include noxious agents like cigarette smoke, strong smells, strenuous activity, extreme weather conditions and respiratory infections.
Many children and adults with asthma also have allergies – which vary from person to person. Specific allergy testing is often helpful. Monitoring a patient’s frequency of symptoms such as cough, wheezing, shortness of breath and use of a rescue bronchodilator like albuterol can help determine the level of asthma control and predict risk for an asthma attack. Lung function measurement called spirometry is also an excellent tool in predicting risk and is recommended every one to two years.
Your doctor should be able to use information from your medical history, physical exam and necessary tests to form a personalized asthma action plan. The goal is to not only prevent asthma attacks but to make it easier to live an unrestricted life.
Dr. Lee Choo-Kang is a Mercy Clinic pediatric respiratory and sleep medicine physician at Mercy Children’s Hospital. For more information or to find a physician, please visit www.mercychildrens.net.