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Is It Asthma? 5 Symptoms You Should Never Ignore

Even if you’ve never wheezed a day in your life, you could still have asthma. And no symptom should go overlooked, warns Dr. Todd A. Levin of Chattanooga Allergy Clinic.

His office sees hundreds of cases each year, with patients ranging from infant to senior citizen. And while it’s true that asthma is classified as mild, moderate or severe, anyone with the disease should be monitored closely by a medical professional.

“Roughly 1/3 of all asthma deaths come from people with either undiagnosed or mild asthma,” he says.

In simplest terms, asthma is caused by inflammation in the lungs that constricts the airways. But it’s a complicated, often tricky disease because patients can be virtually symptom free then suddenly have an attack (technically called an exacerbation). Usually there is a trigger of some sort, such as pollen or even the common cold. 

Approximately 22 million Americans have asthma according to the National Institutes of Health’s Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. How do you know if you’re one of them? The most recognized symptom is wheezing – that telltale whistling sound in the lungs. But there are lesser-known symptoms that should never be ignored:

  1. Shortness of breath
  2. Frequent cough (particularly at night or in the morning)
  3. Feeling tired or weak during exercise
  4. Chest tightness
  5. Coughing or wheezing after exercise

WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR

If you exhibit any of these symptoms on a regular basis, it’s time to see the doctor. “Anyone coughing more than 2 nights per week, wheezing more than 2 days per month or coughing during exercise needs to see a doctor,” says Dr. Levin. “They need to be evaluated or, if already diagnosed, they need to step up their therapy.”

The benefit of being evaluated by an allergist is they can easily perform allergy testing at the same time. Roughly 80 percent of all asthmatics have an allergic trigger, and controlling the allergy can mean a step down in asthma medication. “In a study of patients allergic to dust mites, those treated with dust mite allergy shots were able to take a 50 percent lower dose of their asthma medication,” says Levin.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Chattanooga Allergy Clinic can evaluate you or your child in just one office visit by taking a detailed medical history, performing a pulmonary function test and, of course, allergy testing. A pulmonary function test can be done on anyone over age 5 and it’s an easy, non-invasive procedure that involves breathing into a tube.  

WHAT TO DO IF IT’S ASTHMA

  • TAKE MEDICATION AS PRESCRIBED: 

The gold standard of treatment is inhaled steroids. While over-the-counter inhalers exist they’re not deemed safe by the medical community, warns Levin. Your doctor will prescribe the minimum dosage to control symptoms, but a common problem is for people to stop taking their medication once they feel better. “If you truly have asthma, you’re not going to outgrow it,” says Levin. “It may go into remission, but you’ll always have the underlying disease process.”

  • FOLLOW UP REGULARLY WITH YOUR DOCTOR:

Given the unpredictable nature of asthma, it’s vital to be evaluated by a medical professional on a regular basis. “You can have inflammation and not exhibit any symptoms, so the only way to know how you’re responding to treatment is to regularly monitor lung function,” he says. Official guidelines recommend being checked by a medial professional at least two to four times per year.

  • BE AWARE OF TRIGGERS:

Triggers come in many forms, and knowing what yours are can help you reduce exposure or be proactive about stepping up treatment. The most common is rhinovirus (the common cold) or other upper respiratory illnesses such as walking pneumonia. Whenever possible your doctor can prescribe antibiotics to get infections under control. Here are a few other common triggers:

    • RSV (for children under 3)
    • Tobacco smoke
    • Weather changes
    • Humidity
    • Irritants such as strong smells, smoke, exhaust fumes
    • Pollen
    • Dust
    • Cockroaches
    • Stress
    • Pet Dander

Ultimately the goal is to have absolutely no symptoms and be able to do whatever you want, whenever you want to do it. If you don’t fall into that category, it’s time to make a phone call. 

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How to Fight Allergies in February

You may think just because the leaves aren’t on the trees that you don’t have to worry about springtime allergies.

Think again.

Avoiding the worst of spring’s hay fever symptoms means taking action before the pollen starts swirling. The exact timing of that magic window depends on how mild the winter was, but it’s usually a safe bet in the Southeastern U.S. to start taking an over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine in February.

While most antihistamines start working in an hour or two, they don’t reach peak efficacy for several days or even weeks. “They’re most effective when taken before you have symptoms,” says Dr. Marc Cromie of Chattanooga Allergy Clinic. “Once the pollen starts everything gets inflamed and it can be really difficult to catch up.”

It is possible to get a handle on springtime sneezing. As with most things, the best strategy is a multi-tiered approach including medicine, homeopathic methods and prevention, including allergy immunotherapy for persistent cases.

MEDICINE:

Antihistamines are the mainstays of over-the-counter therapy, says Dr. Cromie. They’re less expensive, safer and more effective than ever, with limited side effects such as drowsiness. Avoid “D” formulations however. They contain a decongestant, which you won’t need if you start early enough.

If you’re still experiencing hay fever symptoms in the peak of the pollen, experiment with other brands. Some may work better for you than others.

Here are a few options:

  • Loratadine (Claritin, Alavert) – One of the first non-drowsy antihistamines on the market, Loratadine takes up to three hours to take effect.
  • Cetirizine (Zyrtec Allergy, others) – Starts working within one hour. Also available in liquid gel.
  • Fexofenadine (Allegra Allergy) – Allegra is the only fast-acting formula (within an hour) that doesn’t have a “may cause drowsiness” warning label.
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) – Effective but can make you drowsy, so recommended to take at night.

HOMEOPATHIC:

Nasal irrigation, such as a neti pot, can be tremendously helpful for sinus sufferers. The saltwater mixture flushes pollen and other irritants out of the nasal passages and helps clear thick mucus that causes congestion. It’s a good idea to only use for a few weeks at a time when feeling stuffy. A study by the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology suggests that prolonged use can wash away beneficial mucus and its antiviral properties.

There are several different products on the market such as a bulb syringe, squeeze bottle or neti pot. All serve the same basic function, so experiment and stick with whichever method you prefer.

PREVENTION:

In Chattanooga, pollen can begin in February or March. It’s microscopic and often goes unnoticed – the yellow pollen we see is larger particles and usually too heavy to be allergenic. Here are some ways to prevent exposure:

  • Change clothes after outdoor activities and be sure to shower each night to wash off pollen and other irritants.
  • Keep your pets from tracking in trouble by wiping your dog or cat with a damp towel before they come inside.
  • Wear a mask when mowing the lawn or doing other yard work. Or better yet, delegate to someone else. (“That’s my favorite trick,” jokes Dr. Cromie.)
  • Avoid early morning outdoor activities when pollen counts are the highest.
  • Keep windows closed at home and in the car. Set your car’s air conditioner on recirculate so allergens don’t hitch a ride.

STILL SUFFERING?

If you take all these steps and still have allergy symptoms, it’s time to see an allergist. Prescription medicines such as nasal sprays that are antihistamine or corticosteroid based can be helpful, and many now come in generic form.

Finally, allergy shots (immunotherapy) are an excellent option for persistent cases. “It’s more of a cure,” says Dr. Cromie. “You retrain the immune system through a series of injections containing small amounts of the allergen. It’s almost like a desensitization protocol. In Europe they call them ‘allergy vaccines’ because of their preventative qualities.”

Immunotherapy can take up to five years, but relief is usually found within three to six months. Shots are given weekly for four to six months, then gradually spaced out to every two weeks, called the maintenance dose. Chattanooga Allergy Clinic also offers an accelerated option, called rush. This protocol drastically speeds up the process, allowing you to reach the maintenance dose in anywhere from several visits to three months.

Allergy shots are the only proven method to actually cure allergy symptoms rather than cover them up like daily medicines do. Plus, recent studies have shown that immunotherapy can prevent asthma from developing by 50 percent.

And that’s nothing to sneeze at.

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CAC Named Finalist for Chamber's Small Business Award

Administrator · 02/06/2013 ·

The Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce announced the finalists for the 2013 Small Business Awards this morning at an AM Networking event.  Chattanooga Allergy Clinic was named a finalist in the 51-200 employee category.

The recipients and finalists will be honored on March 13 during the Small Business Awards Luncheon celebrating small business and entrepreneurial excellence in Chattanooga.  The event will take place at the Chattanooga Convention Center from 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.

To qualify for a Small Business Award, companies must have owned and operated a business in the Chattanooga MSA for a minimum of three years, have shown exemplary success within their industry and have displayed a high level of community involvement and corporate citizenship. Nonprofit organizations must be committed to ethical practices, engage in community service and exert a positive impact on the community. Candidates for the awards come from the Chattanooga Chamber membership.

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