(BPT) - The sun is shining, flowers are blooming, and pollen counts are soaring ... and that means millions of Americans are dealing with the sneezing and wheezing that comes with seasonal allergies. While allergies are sometimes considered an uncomfortable nuisance, for the 25 million Americans with asthma, seasonal allergies can trigger serious attacks that if not managed properly could lead to a visit to the ER. In fact, asthma is responsible for half a million hospitalizations each year – 60 percent of which are caused by patients not taking their medication as prescribed.
“We know that most asthmatics – more than half, actually – do not take their asthma medication properly, and that is leaving their condition uncontrolled and increasing their risk for an ER visit due to an asthma attack,” says Paul Reyes, Express Scripts pharmacist and host of the Ask the Pharmacist radio series. “The biggest mistake asthma patients make is stopping their therapy when they feel better, not realizing that their condition will worsen if they don’t use their mediation as prescribed.”
Asthma is a chronic condition caused by inflammation in the airways and lungs that makes it difficult to breathe. Asthma causes recurring periods of wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and coughing, which often occurs at night or early in the morning. Many factors can inflame an asthma patient’s airways, including infections, pollutants, weather changes and external allergens such as pollen, pet dander, cigarette smoke or dust mites. Studies show that 70 to 80 percent of asthma patients have seasonal allergies, thus increasing their risk for an asthma attack during peak allergy season.
Asthma affects people of all ages, but it most often starts during childhood. Of the 25 million Americans who have asthma, 7 million are children, with lower income children being at particularly high risk. A number of environmental factors, including living in an urban area, have been shown to contribute to the prevalence of asthma.
Reyes offers some important tips for preventing and controlling asthma attacks:
* Know the triggers: Keep a journal of substances that cause symptoms, or ask your doctor about a test to discover which allergens affect you. Knowing what your triggers are and, whenever possible, avoiding them, can reduce symptoms and risk of an attack. If seasonal allergens are affecting you, talk to your doctor about adding a seasonal allergy medication to your asthma therapy regimen.
* Understand your therapy: Asthma therapy can be complicated and difficult to maintain, and often includes different types of mediations each with unique instructions. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you’re not sure how to use your medications. They can help you understand how medications work, and if you use an inhaler, how to use it properly. Also, keep your child informed about the basics of his or her condition and work with the child to make sure he or she knows how to use the medication and what should be done in the event of an emergency.
* Take as directed: Follow the instructions provided by your doctor or pharmacist and do not stop therapy without consulting your physician first. If you are feeling better and are not experiencing symptoms, that means your medication is working and you need to continue using it as prescribed. Set reminders so you don’t forget to take your medication. If a home-delivery pharmacy is an option, this can help ensure an adequate supply of medication is always on hand.
* Care for kids: If your children are enrolled in school or daycare, make sure their caregivers are provided with detailed instructions on how your children’s asthma medication works and when they need to take it. If your child spends time away from home with family or friends, make sure that he or she continues to take the medication as prescribed. Asthma symptoms often become more pronounced in the early morning or late at night, so consistency will help your child stay on track with his or her medications and reduce the risk of an attack.
For more resources and information, visit Express Scripts’ Healthcare Insights blog at lab.express-scripts.com.