Preventing Asthma Attacks
6 Ways to Prevent an Asthma Attack Outdoors
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When you have asthma, everything from pollen to pollution can worsen your symptoms. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the great outdoors. In fact, staying active — for example, going on a nature walk or on a hike through the forest — can help you breathe easier and be healthier in the long term. The key: Be aware of which environmental triggers can exacerbate your symptoms and take measures to avoid them. Start with these steps.
1. Pay attention to air quality."Everyone is affected by pollution, but people with lung disease are more vulnerable to the effects of poor air quality," says S. Christy Sadreameli, MD, MHS, a spokesperson for the American Lung Association. You'll often hear the air quality index — a daily measure of air pollution — reported on local news, but you can also look it up by going to airnow.gov and typing in your zip code. The ratings range from code green (good) to maroon (hazardous). While you don’t have to stay indoors when the air quality index shows a code red (unhealthy), says Dr. Sadreameli, it's important to be cautious and make sure you have your asthma medication with you.
2. Treat any allergies you may have.Allergies — which often go hand in hand with asthma — can also cause inflammation in the airways, leading to a seasonal uptick in asthma symptoms. Allergy tests range from a simple blood test to more extensive testing with an allergist, who can help you pinpoint exactly what you're allergic to and create a targeted or even seasonal approach. Some people use allergy medication all year round, while some need it for only part of the year. "For example, if you're allergic to oak trees, we start medication before the season so we can dial in what works to treat the symptoms," says Janna Tuck, MD, an allergist and spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. If you know you're allergic to pollen, you can also track pollen counts in your area at pollen.com, a nationwide network of pollen-counting stations.
3. Avoid extreme weather.Weather of all types can aggravate your lungs. "When you have very sensitive and hyperreactive airways, the temperature can trigger bronchospasms in the smallest breathing tubes in the lungs, causing an asthma attack," says Sadreameli. Cold, dry air can be especially bothersome. Try covering your mouth with a scarf or mask to help keep air warm and moist as it enters your lungs.
Hot, humid temperatures, on the other hand, can also be an issue and are harder to manage. Consider exercising during cooler times of the day or moving workouts indoors. No gym? Try walking indoors at your local shopping mall or using a free workout video online that requires minimal or no equipment.
Even wind from a new weather front can bring on asthma symptoms, both because it can stir up triggers like mold and pollen and because barometric pressure changes can affect the airways, says Dr. Tuck. Jot down notes about when your breathing is affected to help you communicate your triggers with your doctor and better manage your asthma symptoms.
4. Steer clear of traffic when possible.In an ideal world, we would all walk in parks — not along traffic-congested, busy roads. Airway inflammation tends to be worse in urban areas, says Sadreameli, and traffic can trigger asthma symptoms. Still, for people living in urban areas, the benefits of exercise outweigh the risk of traffic pollution, she says. "We would never advise somebody not to exercise just because they’re near a busy road,” she says. “It's better to get some exercise than to avoid it." Besides, if you have good control of your asthma, you should still be able to exercise.
Still, she says, it's probably a good idea to avoid walking the busiest roads at the heaviest traffic times of the day when you can.
5. Consider pretreatment.If you know what your asthma triggers are — say, a heavy workout or poor air quality — talk to your doctor about using your rescue inhalerbeforeyou need it. Both Tuck and Sadreameli say that taking two puffs 15 to 20 minutes before being exposed to a trigger can help ward off asthma symptoms or help you recover from them more quickly.
6. Work with your doctor to find the right treatment for you.If your asthma management plan is truly working — and you're taking your medication as prescribed — you should be able to participate in both indoorandoutdoor activities without issue. (If your doctor has you on a controller inhaler, like an inhaled corticosteroid, make sure to take it as prescribed daily, even when you don’t have any symptoms.) "People with asthma can and should exercise," says Tuck. "We have some really excellent medications.
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