The onset of winter can be a challenging time for those with chronic allergies and asthma, an associate consultant with Hamad Medical Corporation’s (HMC) Pulmonary, Allergy, and Immunology Department has said. “The winter months bring the annual flu season and cooler and drier weather, both of which can exacerbate asthma symptoms,” according to Dr Salma Ahmed Taha.
“Many people do not think of the autumn and winter as being a season for allergies and asthma, but depending on an individual’s allergy and asthma triggers, the winter months can be one of the most challenging times of the year. Dry air can be a respiratory irritant and this can contribute to the worsening of allergy and asthma symptoms,”she said.
Dr Taha explains that the flu and asthma can be a deadly mix, placing an individual with asthma at an increased risk for complications and exposing their lungs to severe and even permanent damage. “While having asthma does not increase a person’s risk of getting the flu, the consequences of influenza are far greater. The seasonal flu causes respiratory inflammation that not only triggers the symptoms of asthma but can also make them worse. Getting the flu vaccination is recommended for those with asthma.
“Winter allergens or irritants can result in allergic rhinitis or hay fever as it is more commonly known. Allergic rhinitis occurs when the body's immune system overreacts to specific substances, causing nasal inflammation and resulting in excessive mucus production, nasal congestion, and post-nasal drip. It is important for individuals with allergies to be aware of what triggers their symptoms.
“Allergic asthma symptoms can come and go at any time of the year. Winter presents some unique challenges in that both indoor and outdoor triggers can set off symptoms. Common indoor allergens that are especially active during the winter months include dust mites, indoor molds, and insect allergens. The most common symptoms of these conditions include coughing, headaches, sore throat, watery red eyes, and a runny or blocked nose.
“Individuals who have an allergy to dust mites may experience a worsening of symptoms during the autumn and winter. This will be especially true for those who spend a lot of time inside. “Dust allergies can make it difficult to breathe and may trigger asthma symptoms, such as wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Symptoms vary from person to person and are determined by which area of the respiratory system is affected; whether it affects the upper respiratory tract, such as the nose or pharynx or the lower respiratory tract, such as the lungs.
“Dust mites are insects, not able to be seen with the naked eye. They live in bedding, carpets, fabric furniture, old clothing, and stuffed toys. They survive primarily by feeding on the external layer of human skin.
“For many individuals, reducing the amount of dust in the home will help to improve allergy symptoms. Dust mites can live in mattresses, pillows, bed linens, carpets, and furniture. While most allergies are not life-threatening, they often cause discomfort and stress for many patients. The first step in managing an allergy is a proper diagnosis, which begins with talking to your doctor about your symptoms as well as your family and medical history,” says Dr Taha.
To treat seasonal allergies, Dr Taha recommends taking medications such as oral antihistamines, nasal decongestant sprays, eye drops, and a saline nasal rinse. She also recommends washing bedding frequently in hot water, which helps kill dust mites and remove allergens. It is also recommended to get the flu vaccination.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), short-term medications used to relieve symptoms and medications such as inhaled corticosteroids are the most effective method for controlling the progression of severe asthma.
More information about influenza and where to get the vaccine for free in Qatar, can be had from www.stoptheflu.qa