Managing Asthma Outdoors
When birds chirp and the sun shines, the great outdoors beckons—especially now, after a long winter indoors. But what if you suffer from asthma or allergies? PacMed pulmonologist Dr. Kerlan Wolsey shares this advice.
When will the allergy season start?
The term “allergy season” is somewhat misleading. We all have an individual allergy profile that dictates the timing of symptoms. The first step, therefore, is to understand one’s specific allergens through blood or skin allergy testing. Once you know your allergy triggers, you can aim to avoid those allergens during the times they are more prevalent.
How should I modify my exercise routines if I notice symptoms?
Along with avoiding known allergens, using an Asthma Action Plan is a useful tool to help you modify your exercise routine as symptoms escalate. This plan, developed with your pulmonologist or allergist, provides self-monitoring and treatment instructions. Typical allergic symptoms to environmental allergens include nasal congestion, runny nose, itchy eyes, coughing, wheezing and hives. If you notice these symptoms, you can consult your plan to determine if you need to modify your exercise routine, change location, take medication or call your doctor.
When should I exercise outdoors and when indoors?
AirNow.gov is an excellent site to get current air-quality data for where you live. It reports air quality using the official US Air Quality Index (AQI), a color-coded index to communicate whether air quality is healthy or unhealthy. When AQI values are above 100, air quality is unhealthy for certain sensitive groups of people, and then as AQI values get higher, for everyone.
If the air outside is unhealthy, there are a number of indoor exercises that are free and involve little or no equipment. One example: high-intensity interval training (HIIT) cardio workouts. Trainers love them because they are fast and efficient and can be adjusted to just about any level of expertise. Just Google “HIIT workout,” and you’ll find a number of instructional videos and articles online.
When can we stop wearing masks?
Those decisions are determined at a state or federal level, so keep watching those websites for the latest recommendations. There is some evidence that COVID-19 masks may help allergy sufferers reduce exposure to allergens when taking part in outdoor activities, so some people may choose to continue wearing them. I believe masks are going to be a way of life going forward, even as more people get vaccinated, because zoonotic infections (germs spread between animals and humans) are increasing in frequency.
The State order does provide an exemption for people with medical conditions where a face covering could obstruct breathing. Since asthma affects people in various ways and there continue to be risks in our environment, you should definitely consult your doctor before abandoning your face mask.
Kerlan P. Wolsey, MD, FCCP, is a pulmonology specialist at our Canyon Park and First Hill clinics. Call 1.888.472.2633 for an appointment.
Guidelines for safe activity based on current air quality
Asthma treatment action plan
HIIT cardio workout
Air quality reports