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Spring has arrived and people are excited to spend time outside and get fresh spring air, especially given the stay-inside order that’s in place due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak. Unfortunately, spring may also trigger allergy and asthma flare-ups for some. Allergies and asthma are common conditions, and it can be difficult to pinpoint triggers and manage symptoms. 

Dr. Cameual Wright, the medical director for CareSource Indiana, a nonprofit, nationally recognized health plan, shares the following tips on how to make the most out of your time at home. These facts and tips can help readers understand allergies and asthma as we approach a season that brings triggers.

1. What are allergies and asthma?

According to the Mayo Clinic, allergies occur when your immune system reacts to a foreign substance that doesn’t cause a reaction in most people. When a person has allergies, the immune system makes antibodies that identify a particular allergen as harmful, even though it isn’t. When someone comes into contact with the allergen, the immune system’s reaction can inflame skin, sinuses, airways or the digestive system. Allergies can be caused by various triggers that differ from person to person. These triggers are not limited to, but can include cats, dogs, mold, dust mites, plants, food, fragrances and medications. Allergies can be treated and managed through medicine, recognition of triggers and avoidance of triggers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines asthma as a disease that affects the lungs. It causes repeated episodes of wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and nighttime or early morning coughing. Some of the most common triggers from asthma are cats, dogs, mold, smoking, dust mites, exercise and smoke from wood or grass. While asthma can flare up at various times, it can be controlled through medication and avoiding triggers.

2. How are allergies and asthma related?

Asthma and allergies may seem like two separate health issues, but the two are closely related. Both are related to inflammation and caused by triggers. Additionally, the two health issues often accompany one another. This means that when someone has an allergy flare-up, it could come with worsening asthma.

3. How do we know if we have allergies or asthma vs. something else?

Only a health care provider can truly diagnose you with asthma or allergies. One indicator that can help differentiate allergies and asthma from other health issues like a cold and flu are the time periods attached to the condition. A cold or flu has a clear beginning and ending while asthma and allergies are chronic and recurring. When someone visits a health care provider they can confirm a case of asthma or allergies through testing.

Allergies also have overlapping symptoms with COVID-19 including a developing cough and shortness of breath. It is easy for minds to wander from allergies to COVID-19 due to the frequent discussion surrounding the virus. One of the easiest ways to decipher if you have allergies or something like the influenza virus or COVID-19 is to check your temperature. A fever can mostly rule out allergies and offer a clearer understanding of symptoms when contacting a health care provider for further consultation. For more information on COVID-19 symptoms, visit the CDC website.

4. When should you see a health care provider about your allergies and asthma?

I would encourage people to see a health care provider once your allergies or asthma become disruptive to your life or when you need symptom control. These symptoms can include chest tightness, shortness of breath or other respiratory issues. If you are not sure what is triggering your asthma or allergies, your health care provider can help pinpoint the cause.

While COVID-19 has made in-person visits for any health conditions more challenging to access, CareSource offers a 24/7 telemedicine option. If consultation is needed during COVID-19, the CareSource24 Nurse Advice Line offers consultation from an experienced staff of registered nurses.

5. What are some common misconceptions about allergies and asthma?

When it comes to allergies, the biggest misconception I see is that other people think those with allergies are exaggerating. Allergies can be really serious, and it is essential for people to know the importance of avoiding the allergen. This is especially crucial in educational settings as children can be exposed to various triggers that can result in severe responses.

One of the most common misconceptions about asthma I see is that people think there is nothing you can do about it and it limits your life. I want people facing asthma to know that it is controllable. I want to stress the importance of working hand-in-hand with a health care provider to understand your triggers and the proper use of medications that may make asthma attacks less likely.

CareSource, a nationally recognized nonprofit health plan, is helping their members manage and treat their allergies and asthma through covering medications and taking initiatives with providers to ensure patients are on the right regimens. CareSource is reviewing new medications as they come out to offer to members should they be sufficient. I encourage anyone struggling with asthma or allergies to see their primary provider to learn how to manage their condition.

Dr. Cameual Wright is CareSource Indiana medical director.

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