July 28, 2016

Allergies and lung disease

Ainsley Ringma, Lung Care Nurse, Lung Foundation Australia

You may notice as the days get longer and warmer that you begin to have a runny nose, sneeze more and even your eyes may be itchy or watery. Welcome to spring, which for some people means allergy time. Allergies like allergic rhinitis (hayfever) can occur at any time of the year, but are more likely in the spring due to the increase in flower or grass pollen, tree moulds and more.1

Allergies and lung diseaseAllergic rhinitis affects around 15 per cent of the Australian population, or about 3.1 million people which equals about 1 in 6 people.2 Common symptoms include sneezing, runny and itchy nose, itchy or watery eyes, blocked nose and snoring at night.

Allergy occurs when a person’s immune system reacts to substances in the environment that are harmless for most people.3 These substances are known as allergens and are found in house dust mites, pets, pollen, insects, moulds, foods and some medicines. Spring is a common time when these allergens are all around, especially with the changing of winds, and windy days. This is a perfect example of when we may encounter many of these triggers.

In a study by the Johns Hopkins University published online in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, researchers looked at more than 1,400 patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and found that those with allergies were much more likely than those without allergies to wheeze, to have chronic cough and chronic phlegm, to awake during the night because of cough, and to have a worsening of COPD symptoms that required antibiotics or a visit to the doctor.4 According to Dr Nadia Hansel, an associate professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins Asthma and Allergy Center in Baltimore, the findings suggested that treating allergies or avoiding allergy triggers may help reduce the number and severity of respiratory problems in people with COPD.4

If you experience hayfever or allergies, below are some tips for coping with or controlling symptoms and triggers:1

  • Be aware of what triggers your allergy and when it’s likely to be a problem.
  • Find out the remedies which help you best (such as antihistamines and nasal sprays) and keep them with you.
  • Check whether you can take these remedies if you are on any other medication. You can talk about this with your pharmacist, nurse or GP.
  • Check when you should start taking your remedy.
  • Sometimes a little petroleum jelly inside your nostrils can stop some of the allergens reaching the lining inside your nose. If you’re on oxygen, use a non-petroleum based lubricant such as Nozoil. Try using some as soon as your symptoms start.
  • Wear wraparound sunglasses when outdoors to keep pollen allergens out of your eyes.
  • Wash your clothes and hair more regularly, as this will help to get rid of the pollens.
  • Keep your home clean and use a damp duster to stop pollens moving about your home.
  • Avoid open, grassy spaces if possible and keep windows shut – at home and in the car.

Hopefully, these tips will help you reduce the symptoms and impact of hayfever so this spring you can be prepared and enjoy the warmer weather. Please discuss any concerns you have with your health professional who may be able to suggest some medicines to help.

1. https://www.blf.org.uk/your-stories/controlling-summer-allergies
2. http://www.aihw.gov.au/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=10737420519
3. https://www.allergyfacts.org.au/allergy-anaphylaxis/what-is-allergy
4. http://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20130510/allergies-may-boost-severity-of-lung-disease