Prepare your patients to weather asthma triggers

  • Boy with tissue

No matter the season, weather plays an important role in the lifestyles and livelihoods of many Australians.

The weather forecast warrants extra attention for people with asthma, with environmental factors such as pollen, extreme temperatures, smoke and dust all having the potential to trigger symptoms.

Triggers vary from person to person so it’s important for health professionals to help their patients develop a good understanding of their individual triggers and know the avoidance strategies.

Achieving good asthma care and control should be a year-round goal, to help patients be in the best possible shape to manage inevitable weather triggers.

Written asthma action plans are a vital self-management tool, to help people recognise when their symptoms are getting worse and know how to respond.

Yet we know that many people with asthma don’t have a plan. The whole primary care team can help – GPs can develop action plans with their patients as a written record of their asthma management, and include personalised information about triggers and how to manage them, while pharmacists and practice nurses are ideally placed to provide education around implementing the plan and medication management.

Pollen

Pollen season is a well-known challenge for people with allergic rhinitis, which affects three in four people with asthma. Poorly managed allergic rhinitis can make asthma more difficult to control.

Health professionals can help educate patients about the link between the conditions and make sure their allergic rhinitis is under control.

People who have allergic rhinitis, with or without known asthma, are at a heightened risk of thunderstorm asthma and need to proactively manage their symptoms, particularly during spring and summer when ryegrass pollen peaks in south-east Australia.

The National Asthma Council’s treatment guidelines, the Australian Asthma Handbook, has advice on the prevention of thunderstorm asthma in individuals.

Extreme temperatures

Cold or dry air, extreme heat, and sudden temperature changes can all be asthma triggers for different people.

People with well-controlled asthma, who have a written asthma action plan so they can act quickly if symptoms start, will be better prepared to cope with whatever the weather throws at them.

Simple strategies can also help, such as wrapping a light scarf around the lower face when exercising in cold air or being aware of the potential for heat stress on very hot days.

Weather events

Weather events that affect air quality, such as bushfires and dust storms, carry extra risks for people with asthma.

As so many Australians experienced firsthand this summer, bushfire smoke can travel large distances and affect air quality for prolonged periods.

Good asthma care and control are essential in challenging air quality conditions. This includes reinforcing medication adherence, checking device technique and making sure action plans are up to date.

When air quality is poor, it’s important for asthma patients to know the steps they can take to limit their exposure, carry their reliever inhaler with them and follow their action plan if symptoms begin.

Allergic triggers such as mould can also be a consideration in weather events with heavy rainfall or flooding.

Visit the Australian Asthma Handbook for a thorough exploration of asthma triggers.

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