More than 460,000 New Zealanders take medication for asthma, and up to 80 per cent of asthma is associated with allergy. That’s a lot of families that need to be prepared this summer in order to reduce the risk of asthma and allergy flare-ups spoiling the summer fun. The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ recommends the following important tips to ensure your holidays are asthma and allergy trouble-free.
Visit your GP
The end of the year is a good time to visit your GP and get your asthma checked. Explain to your GP any changes that might affect your asthma and allergies this summer, such as change of climate/temperature if you’re planning to go on a holiday. Ask your GP to review your asthma action plan if you have one, or to put one in place if you don’t. New asthma action plans were released by the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ at the end of November, so now is a great time to get a new plan based on the latest best-practice.
Don’t forget medications
The beginning of summer is always an exciting and festive time of year, when many people enjoy a busy social calendar. It’s important to stay on top of your medication during this time, and take preventers regularly if prescribed. If you’re going away on holiday, make sure your prescription medications will last until you arrive back home, and always take extra medication. Pack everything else needed including a spacer (if inhaler allows) and peak flow meter.
Know your allergens
In New Zealand, the most common asthma-producing allergens are related to house dust mites, animals, pollens, moulds and fungal spores. Asthma due to food and drink allergy is uncommon. If you have asthma that is triggered by allergens you should try to identify the allergen, so you can avoid or minimise exposure to it. To find out what you’re allergic there are two types of tests. A ‘skin prick test’ will test a small amount of the suspected allergen on the skin to see if a reaction occurs. There is also a radioallergosorbent test (RAST), which measures the amount of immunoglobulin E (IgE) in the blood that is directed to a specific allergen.
House dust mites
We all have dust mites in our homes, in soft furniture, carpets, mattresses and pillows. Signs you may have an allergy to dust mites include wheezing when vacuuming or dusting, or asthma symptoms during the night or first thing in the morning. Their waste products, which are very tiny are what can provoke an allergic reaction. Cover your mattress, duvet inner and pillows with mite-resistant cases, and bring these with you when staying with friends or family.
Cats are the second biggest source of indoor allergen. A high proportion of New Zealand families have cats and the allergens they produce tend to stay in the house for long periods. Dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs and mice can also cause problems in some people. Never allow pets into the bedroom and, if possible, keep them outside. If animals are one of your triggers, when visiting friends or family who have furry animals take extra medication beforehand, or ask them to visit you instead.
Pollens, moulds and fungal spores
Pollens can come from grasses, trees and shrubs. Grasses and weeds are so widespread and have such a long season that they are the major pollen problem in New Zealand. Take extra medicine during the summer months if you know the pollens are likely to make your asthma worse. If you also get hay fever, medicines may be required for this too. To reduce mould allergens in the home, remove mould or mildew from all surfaces including walls and shower curtains with a fungicide such as very-diluted household bleach.
Around three-quarters of people with asthma become wheezy in a smoky room. During the summer season stay away from second-hand smoke from cigarettes at social occasions, and also remember to stay away from bonfires at night or smoky barbeques.