Asthma, Part 2: Prevention

Although the chronic condition of asthma cannot be prevented, much can be done to minimize exacerbations. The goal of asthma prevention is to minimize exposure to irritants that can stir up inflammation in the airways. It is difficult to avoid all exposure, but some things are very doable.

1. Avoid fragrances. Perfume, scented candles, air fresheners, scented personal products (lotion, shampoo, aftershave, hair spray), incense, and the like. This will be difficult, as Americans are obsessed with adding fragrance to everything. Many fragrances come from aromatic esters, which are chemical compounds consisting of acid or oil, which obviously are irritating when inhaled.

2. Avoid smoke. Tobacco smoke – first hand or second-hand, wood fire smoke, fireworks, smoke machines used in theaters or rock concerts, etc. This is getting easier than it used to be as more and more public places go smoke-free. The down side of this is that restaurant patrons often have to walk through the gauntlet of outdoor smokers to get to the restaurant front door.

3. Avoid breathing dry, cold air. On very cold days, wrap a scarf around the lower part of your face to help warm the air before you breathe it.

4. Do what you can to prevent upper respiratory infections aka colds and flu. Get a flu shot yearly. The three best defenses against colds? Hand washing, hand washing, and hand washing. Hand sanitizer will do the trick just as well. Keep some in your car or purse, in the diaper bag and on the kitchen counter. Avoid touching your mouth and nose as this is how cold germs on your hands get transferred to your respiratory system.

5. Control allergies. For mild allergies, you may get by with an over the counter antihistamine such as loratadine. Avoid long-term use of Benadryl as its sedating effects can be cumulative. For more severe allergies, you may need to see an allergists for testing and professional recommendations. Prescription nasal sprays such as Flonase and Nasonex are the best line of defense for stopping allergen effects where they enter the airways – at the nose.

Along the same lines, limit allergen exposure. Use an allergen furnace filter, cover your bed pillow with an allergy cover, don’t get a pet, or if you do have pets, keep them out of your bedroom. Your allergist can give you further advice on how to avoid your specific allergens.

6. Avoid over the counter self-treatment with products such as Primatene mist. If your asthma symptoms are bad enough to warrant an inhaler, it’s better to get an effective prescription inhaler and professional medical advice.

Next: asthma treatment


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