Hurricane Irene has already brought wind, rain, storm surges and of course flooding to millions on the east coast this weekend.  But another possible consequence is that it can stir up your allergies and asthma symptoms.

Stormy weather including tropical storms and hurricanes can worsen allergies and asthma because as increased gusty winds can seriously spread wet mold spores into the air.  Additionally, if a homeowner looses power, air conditioning which filters and dehumidifiers warm, humid air can allow outdoor allergens (particularly mold spores) to enter the home and trigger that pesky allergy associated symptoms.  In many areas we are already seeing high levels of various pollens including Ragweed, weeds and mold spores.

Of course indoor water damaged areas can be problematic due to mildew and mold growth as a result, especially in basements, ground level areas as well as water damaged walls, ceilings and flooring. With Hurricane Katrina both allergic and non-allergic people needed mold remediation measures as a result of excessive water damage.

In those with chronic or persistent respiratory problems such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema that may be in jeopardy if power outages result in loss of electricity needed for compressor driven home “nebulized” asthma medications. Alternative medications and therapies need be part of an asthma action plan that should be in place for those at risk.

Here are some helpful strategies to help better manage allergy and asthma problems after a hurricane such as Irene:
  • If you suffer from allergies remember that opening windows may aggravate symptoms as outdoor allergens enter the home.
  • If you have pet allergies, be prepared for a spike in allergy symptoms as a result of closer and prolonged exposure in a relatively closed environment.
  • Engage the “do not re-circulate” mode for your air conditioner to reduce outdoor allergens from entering your home.
  • Change your home air conditioner/furnace filters regularly.
  • Mold growth can build up from fallen leaves, branches around your home.  You can measure indoor humidity levels by using an inexpensive room “hygrometer”.
  • Consider if humidity surge as a result of rain and flooded areas, expect that indoor humidity levels will surge (over 50%).  Be aware that the use a room or central dehumidifier can help to prevent mildew growth that can worsen respiratory allergies.
  • Have your prescribed and OTC allergy and asthma medications in close proximity and on hand (especially important if you have a power loss).
  • Work with your family allergist or asthma specialist (www.allergyandasthmarelief.org) to learn the warning signs of uncontrolled asthma and have a plan in place for worsening symptoms, as well as your health care provider’s emergency contact information.
Cliff Bassett, MD Medical Director, Allergy and Asthma Care of NY