HealthSaver's Tips For Allergies And Asthma Relief

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Allergies and asthma affect six times more Americans than cancer, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. As the fifth leading chronic disease, allergies, along with asthma, strike one out of every four Americans.

"There are many pro-active measures you can take to prevent or treat allergies and asthma," said Peggy Fleming, Olympic figure skating champion and HealthSaver spokesperson, "especially during spring, the main allergy season."

Pollen, mold, dust and other allergens cause allergies in some people and not others because the immune system of allergy sufferers identifies these substances as harmful. The immune system's defense results in symptoms such as congestion, sneezing and watery eyes.

"To take control of your allergies, prevent exposure to irritants in your home and be sure to follow the advice of your physician," said Brad Eggleston, vice president of HealthSaver. An active approach is the best approach in the fight against allergies.

Hay Fever

-- Seasonal allergies' most common symptom is also one of the most common illnesses in America: allergic rhinitis. Hay fever, as it is otherwise known, causes the nose and airways to become irritated upon exposure to allergens. This results in a runny nose and bouts of sneezing, much like a common cold.

-- Unlike the common cold, however, rhinitis does not cause a fever and will last for a longer period of time, usually weeks or months. If left untreated, rhinitis may also lead to more serious conditions, such as insomnia and fatigue.

-- The first step in controlling allergic rhinitis is avoiding irritants. To reduce moisture and mold irritants, use an air conditioner and dehumidifier to dry the air in your home. Dust mites can also cause allergic symptoms. Dust mites are attracted to animal dander, which they feed upon. Animal dander is best avoided by keeping pets, such as dogs, outdoors.

-- In severe allergy cases, your physician may recommend immunotherapy. Studies show that this series of allergy shots can be successful for up to 90 percent of patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis.

Asthma and Allergies

-- Allergic asthma is the most common form of asthma, and accounts for one-quarter of all emergency room visits in the United States. Yet asthma is also the third leading cause of preventable hospitalization.

-- Asthma, a chronic disease, is not to be ignored, because it can cause permanent damage to the airways. Treatment involves continuous management, including controlling adverse environmental factors and taking medication as prescribed.

-- Most moderate to severe asthma sufferers also battle allergic rhinitis. Controlling that complication may improve the asthma associated with it.

Take Action

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-- You can help avoid and decrease exposure to allergens by taking control of the environment you live in, most especially your home. To improve air quality, replace the window unit filters often and keep windows and doors closed to prevent the entry of outdoor allergens.

-- Keep your home clean. It is best to vacuum at least once a week, ideally by someone who does not suffer from allergies. Reorganize areas so that they are not prone to the collection of dust and mold. Also minimize the number of indoor plants, because the moisture in the soil may lead to the growth of mold.

-- Bedroom mattresses tend to hold the most dust mites in the home. In order to wash off such allergens that may have collected on your skin, bathe each night before bedtime. Also, each week, wash your pillows, sheets and blankets in water at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit. You can best protect yourself from dust mites by encasing your pillows and mattresses in zippered dust-proof covers.

-- Bathrooms are especially susceptible to moisture collection. Reduce dampness with an exhaust fan and leave the room uncarpeted. Any leaky faucets or pipes should be repaired as soon as possible. Frequently check for mold and mildew in bathtubs, showers and sinks. To eliminate mold, clean with a mixture of water and chlorine bleach.

-- Conditions just outside of the home can also encourage the collection of allergens. Stay safe by eliminating piles of leaves and firewood. These can serve as a welcome home for mold spores. This, along with the mowing of the lawn and raking of the leaves, should be handled by someone who does not suffer from allergies.

-- To reduce asthma symptoms, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology suggests freeing your home of allergy-inducing cockroaches. To do so, adjust your kitchen so that it does not encourage the entry of these insects. Keep lids on garbage containers and put pet food dishes away if left in the open. To prevent the spread of crumbs, aim to eat your meals in one particular area. An exterminator may also help ensure that your home is insect-free.

Sinuses

-- Mucus prevents bacteria, pollen and dust from entering your lungs, playing an important role in protecting you against allergens. The sinus cavities are no longer able to clear out such substances when allergies cause inflammation in the nasal sinuses.

-- Nearly 37 million Americans suffer from chronic sinusitis. To treat blocked nasal passages and the "sinus headache" that occurs when swollen tissue traps air and produces pressure, take measures to drain your sinuses. Decongestant nasal sprays are often used, though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises not to use these products for more than three days because overuse can actually make symptoms worse. If a bacterial infection is present, your physician may prescribe an antibiotic.

When to See Your Physician

-- If actions and precautions don't help your asthma and allergy symptoms, visit your physician. A doctor can run tests to determine the cause and severity of your condition.

-- Your physician may recommend a treatment plan that involves medications such as antihistamines. Antihistamines relieve allergy symptoms by neutralizing the effects of the chemical released by your immune system during an allergic reaction.

-- If you are diagnosed with allergies or asthma, your physician may refer you to a specialist. This allergist or immunologist may then suggest immunotherapy. This treatment, much like a vaccine, will help your body become less sensitive to allergens.

Don't let allergies and asthma control your life. Be consistent in the efforts to avoid allergens. Since allergies are a chronic disease, treatment should also be consistent. Such a pro-active approach is sure to bring relief.

HealthSaver, an emerging health care discount program, offers savings on prescriptions, vision care, complementary and alternative health care treatments, vitamins and supplements by mail and more than 1,500 fitness clubs nationwide, including select Bally Total Fitness, World Gym and Ladies Workout Express locations.

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