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May

 
is National Allergy & Asthma
Awareness Month

Take a Deep Breath!

Larry James
Acchoo!

Fresh air.

Ahhh!

Feels good, eh?

Take a deep breath.

Most people take breathing for granted. However, if you have asthma, the difficulty of taking a breath may take you by surprise when inhaling grows inherently problematic.

When I was six months old, I almost died. The doctor told my parents that I had asthma. Not only did I have asthma, I had allergies and hayfever. Breathing was difficult.

To know how it feels to have asthma, plug your nose and breathe through a straw - not a soda straw, but a thin cocktail straw. To know how it feels to have severe asthma, bend the straw in half.

Asthma is an often chonic ailment marked by wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing and tightness in the chest. It accounts for about $12.7 billion in health care costs each year.

According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), asthma has increased fifty percent in the United States over several decades, especially among inner city children.

Reasons for the asthma increase:

  • Increased stress on the immune system due to pollution
  • Overuse of antibiotics in the first year of life
  • Earlier weaning and introduction of solid foods to infants with food additives and genetic manipulation of plants, resulting in food with greater allergenic tendencies.
  • Poor nutrition
  • Heredity
  • Tree pollens
  • Dust mites
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Stress and
  • An increase in your weight.

Technically, asthma can be one of two types. The first kind, extrinsic or atopic asthma, is an allergic condition wherein the body produces large amounts of serum IgE, the allergic antibody. This type of asthma is seasonal, not chronic, has childhood onset and a family history allergy and positive skin allergy tests.

This type of asthma can be set off by pollen, animal dander and mold.

The other kind of asthma, intrinsic asthma, is linked to a bronchial reaction, stemming not from allergy but a different kind of reaction to dust, toxic chemicals, cold air, infection, emotional upset and exercise.

Both asthmas cause your body to release chemicals that inflame mast cells, specialized white blood cells that inhabit the lining of your respiratory passages. Substances called inflammatory mediators, including histamine and compounds such as leukotrienes, produce much of the allergic reaction seen in asthma.

Over fifty percent of asthmatics have allergic reactions to foods or environmental triggers.

In 1995 I moved to Scottsdale, Arizona from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Little did I know that Arizona has the second highest rate of asthma sufferers in the country, according to the government's first state-by-state survey of respiratory disorder.

  1. Maine - 8.9%
  2. Arizona - 8.6%
  3. Ohio - 8.6%
  4. Wyoming - 8.6%
  5. Massachusetts - 8.5%
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

I arrived in May, just as the first wave of pollen was dissapating. I noticed that I was having to use my inhaler more often but since I was so busy relocating my speaking and publishing businesses, I didn't pay too much attention to how often. I thought I had outgrown most of the symptoms as is often the case.

By the middle of March of the following year, I finally decided to see a doctor. Through his calculations I was only using about 25% of my lung capacity by the time I arrived. Through the miracle of drugs I was stabilized in about seven hours.

Shortly thereafter I began a regimen of allergy shots, prescribed drugs and inhalers that has - along with a change in diet and lifestyle - brought me a sense of well being that I've not known in years past.

The best way to prevent an allergy is to recognize that you have one. Often people confuse an allergy with a cold or flu. Remember colds are short-lived and passed from person to person, whereas allergies are immune system reactions to normally harmless substances. Allergies are best prevented by avoiding exposure to allergens in the first place.

What are some of the symptoms that may indicate you have an allergy?

  • Sneezing, watery eyes or cold symptoms that last more than 10 days without a fever.
  • Repeated ear and sinus infections.
  • Loss of smell or taste.
  • Frequent throat clearing, hoarseness, coughing or wheezing.
  • Dark circles under the eyes caused by increased blood flow near the sinuses (allergic shines).
  • A crease just above the tip of the nose from constant upward nose wiping (called the "allergic salute").
  • Conjunctivitis (an inflammation of the membrane that lines the eyelids, causing red-rimmed eyes).
In people who are not allergic to pesky pollen, the mucus in the nasal passages simply moves these foreign particles to the throat, where they are swallowed or coughed out. But something different happens to a pollen-sensitive person.

As soon as the allergy-causing pollen lands on the mucous membranes of the nose, a chain reaction occurs that leads the mast cells in these tissues to release histamine. This powerful chemical dilates the many small blood vessels in the nose. Fluids escape through these expanded vessel walls, which causes the nasal passages to swell and results in nasal congestion.

Histamine can also cause itching, irritation, and excess mucus production. Other chemicals, including prostaglandins and leukotrienes, also contribute to allergic symptoms.

Some people with pollen allergy develop asthma like I did, a serious respiratory condition. While asthma may recur each year during pollen season, it can eventually become chronic. The symptoms of asthma include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath due to a narrowing of the bronchial passages, and excess mucus production.

Asthma can be disabling and can sometimes be fatal. If wheezing and shortness of breath accompany the hay fever symptoms, it is a signal that the bronchial tubes also have become involved indicating the need for medical attention.

If you feel that you may have an allergy, a good first step is to see your doctor. Next, learn to avoid allergens by following the various preventive strategies outlined for each allergen or irritant that you will receive from the advice of your doctor.

I hope that if you or someone you love has asthma, you will benefit from the information and links that are provided on this site.

Copyright © - Larry James.

Let's begin by answering the question:  What's Asthma All About? - A basic, simple introduction to asthma - its causes, triggers and treatment. This feature is a remarkable convergence of web-based animation, artistic design, and academic rigor. Flash 4 plug-in is required.

Follow the links at the bottom right of each page to complete the Asthma & Allergy tour.

The Asthma & Allergy Book Shelf - Featuring a listing of more than 500 books about asthma, allergies and other related topics.
Visit Larry's Book Store for a large selection of "relationship" books, music and more.

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