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Month: August 2020

Asthma-COPD Overlap Syndrome

Asthma is a chronic condition that causes inflammation of the lungs. Inflammatory swelling of the tissues in the walls of the bronchial tubes and excessive mucus secretion within the lumen of the bronchial tubes cause blockage to the free flow of air in and out of the lungs during normal respiration. In some instances, asthma is a genetically determined condition which can be aggravated by environmental factors such as exposure to allergens (e.g., dust mites, molds, pollens, pet dander, cockroaches) and/or irritants (e.g., cigarette smoke, strong scents, air pollution, increased humidity, cold air). The usual symptoms of asthma may include coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and wheezing.

The course of the disease varies widely in individual patients depending on the severity of the condition. Some individuals have symptoms all of the time and their asthma is labeled persistent while others only have symptoms sporadically and thus their asthma is categorized as intermittent. Physical exertion and both upper and lower respiratory infections may increase the frequency and severity of asthma symptoms in susceptible patients. Asthma usually begins in childhood although it may begin in adulthood. Asthma is usually associated with other allergic disorders such as hay fever (i.e., allergic rhinitis) and/or eczema (i.e., atopic dermatitis).

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD is a common, preventable, and treatable condition that is characterized by persistent respiratory symptoms and airflow limitation that is due to airway and/or alveolar abnormalities usually caused by significant exposure to noxious particles or gases. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are the two most common conditions that fall under the umbrella of COPD. Persistent coughing associated with expectoration and increasing difficulty in breathing as well as effort intolerance are the usual symptoms.

COPD is a progressive condition and it is very common to have increasing severity over time. COPD symptoms typically begin after the age of 40, although symptoms may appear earlier. The symptoms may vary from day to day, but they are chronic even with treatment. Most individuals with COPD also have a history of smoking or smoke exposure.

Asthma-COPD overlap syndrome (ACOS) is characterized by persistent airflow limitation with several features usually associated with both asthma and COPD. ACOS is therefore identified in clinical practice by the features that it shares with both asthma and COPD.
Individuals with ACOS may experience wheezing, breathing difficulties, fatigue, and/or excessive mucus that often responds to bronchodilators (i.e., medications that open airways such as albuterol). Patients with asthma-COPD overlap syndrome also seem to experience more shortness of breath than individuals with COPD or asthma alone. “Persistent airflow obstruction with features of asthma” is a common way that this condition is defined. They tend to be younger in age than patients with COPD alone. However, because this condition is still being studied, experts do not yet agree on a single way to define the syndrome.

ACOS generally involves these 3 features compared with people who have COPD alone:

  • more of a response to inhaled bronchodilators
  • increased reversibility of airflow
  • bronchial and systemic inflammation from eosinophils (i.e., a type of white blood cell that is often elevated in allergic conditions).

The diagnosis of asthma-COPD overlap syndrome requires a comprehensive history and physical examination. Pulmonary function tests (i.e., spirometry) are also usually obtained. One may also need imaging studies such as a chest X-ray and/or CT scan.

The treatment of ACOS generally includes:

  • Avoidance of allergens and irritants
  • Total cessation of smoking
  • Medications which usually consist of daily maintenance inhaled corticosteroids which are anti-inflammatory, in combination with inhaled long-acting bronchodilators to keep the airways open, and short-acting bronchodilators to provide quick relief from symptoms during flare-ups
  • Regular immunizations such as Influenza and pneumonia vaccinations
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation (i.e. breathing exercises and healthy eating habits)

The board certified allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy have 3 convenient office locations in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area and are very experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of asthma and asthma-COPD overlap syndrome. We also work in concert with any pulmonologist on patients with COPD. Black & Kletz Allergy treat both children and adults and have offices in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA. We offer on-site parking at each location. The Washington, DC and McLean, VA offices are Metro accessible and there is a free shuttle that runs between the McLean, VA office and the Spring Hill metro station on the silver line. Please call our office to make an appointment or alternatively, you can click Request an Appointment and we will respond within 24 hours by the next business day. Black & Kletz Allergy has been serving the Washington, DC metropolitan area for more than 50 years and we pride ourselves in providing exceptional allergy and asthma care in a professional and caring environment.

Ragweed and Other Fall Allergies

It is mid-August in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area, so that means that ragweed is beginning to pollinate. For those who are bothered by ragweed allergies, this means that it is time to stock up on tissues and over-the-counter medications. Ragweed allergy is common as approximately 10% of the U.S. population suffers from ragweed pollen. It has been estimated that ragweed causes about half of all pollen-associated allergic rhinitis (i.e., hay fever) in North America. Ragweed also causes allergic conjunctivitis (i.e., eye allergies) and asthma in a multitude of sensitive individuals.

Ragweed is very prevalent in the U.S., particularly in the Eastern and Midwestern regions of the U.S. The only state without ragweed is Alaska. There are at least 17 species of ragweed in North America. Each ragweed plant lives only 1 season but can produce approximately 1 billion pollen grains. The pollen is even more widespread in rural areas. It typically is found along the side of the road, in fields, in vacant lots, and along riverbanks. The warm weather in combination with increased humidity and wind enhances the release of ragweed pollen which tends to begin in mid-August, peak in mid-September, and end with the first frost which usually occurs in late October in the mid-Atlantic region. The pollen released from the ragweed plant can travel hundreds of miles, so most of the U.S population is exposed. The ragweed pollen count tends to peak during the midday and is the lowest in the early mornings.

For those who suffer from ragweed allergy, you are very knowledgeable with respect to the symptoms that you develop. For others who are not familiar with ragweed allergy, here are some of the typical symptoms that you may expect: sneezing, itchy nose, runny nose, nasal congestion, post-nasal drip, itchy eyes, watery eyes, red eyes, puffy eyes, fatigue, snoring, sinus pressure, sinus headaches. In some individuals, ragweed may cause asthma symptoms such as chest tightness, coughing, wheezing, and/or shortness of breath. In asthmatics, it is not uncommon for ragweed to exacerbate one’s asthma. In addition, ragweed may also increase the likelihood of sinus infections (i.e., sinusitis) in some prone individuals.

One fairly common but not well known to the public nuance regarding ragweed allergies is its association with foods. There is a condition known as oral allergy syndrome (i.e., pollen-food allergy syndrome) is a type of food allergy where the patient must have a pollen allergy even if they are not aware of it. It is characterized by an itchy mouth, throat, and/or lips in response to eating certain raw or uncooked fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Occasionally, people will experience itching of their hands when touching the raw foods. The syndrome is caused by allergens in foods that are derived from plants. Thus, only foods that come from plants can cause the syndrome. Extra caution needs to be taken in cases where nuts cause symptoms because many individuals can have nut allergies that are not associated with plants and as discussed above, may be life-threatening. Ironically, when the fruit or vegetable is cooked or canned, the protein is denatured and destroyed which usually prevents the allergic reaction from occurring. In most cases, individuals can tolerate cooked and/or canned fruits and vegetables. Some examples of foods associated with ragweed pollen allergy include melons (e.g., cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon), banana, chamomile tea, white potato, cucumber, zucchini, artichoke, dandelion, and sunflower seeds.

In addition to ragweed allergies, it should be noted that other allergens may play a significant role in Fall allergies. Some of the other allergens that may contribute to an individual’s Fall allergies may include dust mites, molds, pet dander, and cockroaches. It should also be pointed out that these allergens are perennial in nature and may cause allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis, and asthma symptoms throughout the year, and not only during the Fall season.

The board certified allergy doctors at Black & Kletz Allergy have been diagnosing and treating ragweed allergies and other Fall allergies for more than 5 decades. We treat both pediatric and adult patients. If you suffer from allergies and/or asthma, please call Black & Kletz Allergy to schedule an appointment with one of our board certified allergists. We have 3 offices in the Washington, DC, Northern VA, and Maryland metropolitan area. Our offices are located in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA. We have on-site parking at each location and the Washington, DC and McLean, VA offices are Metro accessible, with a free shuttle between the McLean office and the Spring Hill metro station on the silver line. Black & Kletz Allergy has been providing high quality allergy, asthma, and immunology care to the Washington, DC metro area for many years. Please call us for an appointment today or alternatively, you can click Request an Appointment and we will respond within 24 hours on the next business day.