HOW'S your nose? This is the question Asthma Society of Ireland CEO Sarah O’Connor would love GPs to ask patients with asthma this summer.
In Ireland, 80% of people with asthma also have hayfever. O’Connor says most people who have hayfever would describe the condition as annoying – rather than life-threatening.
“However, for 304,000 people who have asthma and hayfever, unmanaged hayfever can be just that [life-threatening]. Hayfever symptoms can cause asthma symptoms to escalate into a serious asthma attack, which can be fatal,” says O’Connor, who has asthma.
She recalls how she and her family – through her entire childhood – believed she was “someone who always had a summer cold”. In fact, she had hayfever and, for a long time now, knows hayfever triggers her asthma.
O’Connor says for one respiratory consultant, who works with the Asthma Society, hayfever is always on top of his list when he sees people with out-of-control asthma during summer.
People think of asthma as a winter illness, or a weather illness, but pollen can really play a role.
The Asthma Society’s Hayfever Campaign includes the pollen tracker, which provides daily updates of pollen levels across the four provinces, and also predictions of pollen levels for the following day.
With pollen season running until September, the Society urges people with hayfever to visit its pollen tracker page (exa.mn/PollenTracker) often, and to ensure their hayfever’s well managed this summer. (In a bid to eliminate confusion, this page also has a graphic outlining symptoms strongly or occasionally associated with Covid-19, hayfever, asthma and COPD).
“There are days in summer that could be considered the equivalent of a pollen storm. It’s important people know about these – which is where the pollen tracker comes in – that they know about their disease [asthma] and their triggers, and that they take the right action,” says O’Connor.
Hayfever’s tricky to manage, she says, because pollen’s an invisible trigger for asthma.
When people go to their doctor or think about their respiratory health, they think of their lungs and not their nose. This is why we’d love GPs to ask asthma patients: what about your nose?
"The patient might say: ‘oh yeah, I’m very sniffly, I seem to have a cold all the time’. By creating this conversation, you can identify a trigger and maybe change a person’s experience of one of the nicest seasons – it can bring summer back for them,” says O’Connor, who recommends parents encourage children with asthma to recognise what their body’s feeling and to communicate that to an adult.