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Allergist educates military community about asthma

Lt. Col. Christopher Coop is an allergist at the Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center's Allergy Clinic, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. He is with the 59th Medical Specialty Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Kevin Iinuma)

Lt. Col. Christopher Coop is an allergist at the Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center's Allergy Clinic, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. He is with the 59th Medical Specialty Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Kevin Iinuma)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- Asthma is no disease to sneeze at.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 24 million Americans are affected by asthma, a chronic disease that causes airways to become inflamed and make it hard to breathe, and 10 people die a day from it. In addition, 6.3 million of those affected are children under the age of 18.

The AAFA declared May National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month to educate people about asthma and allergies since it’s a peak season for symptoms.

As part of that education, Lt. Col. Christopher Coop, an allergist at the Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center Allergy Clinic, explains asthma, its triggers and symptoms, and how to control them. Coop is with the 59th Medical Specialty Squadron.

“Asthma is a chronic and obstructive inflammatory disease of the airwaves,” he explained. “We say it’s chronic because you have to have symptoms for six months to a year. Patients tend to have airway issues where they cannot get air in because their bronchioles restricts or swells up and develops mucus.”

Symptoms include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness. It can be triggered by allergies to dogs, cats, dust mites, trees, pollen, grass and weeds in addition to non-allergic triggers like perfume, odors and diesel exhaust.

“If you’re driving and see a big truck spew black smoke then that could cause problems,” Coop said. “If you’re playing outside and you’re surrounded by a load of air traffic then the bad air quality can help trigger it.”

The most common allergy symptoms can simply make people uncomfortable, like a runny nose, sneezing or an itchy rash. However, more serious reactions, like swelling in the mouth or throat, can be life-threatening. The same substances that triggers allergy symptoms – such as pollen, dust mites and pet dander – may also trigger or worsen asthma signs and symptoms. In some people, skin or food allergies can cause asthma symptoms, according to TRICARE.

Sinus infections and acid influx can also induce asthma, Coop added, because both can cause swelling of the airway and make breathing difficult.

For an asthma diagnosis, patients undergo a spirometry or methacholine challenge lung function test.

Coop generally prescribes patients with mild asthma a rescue inhaler and anti-cortisone steroids for severe asthma. In addition to medication, he will also suggest allergy shots for asthma to desensitize the immune system so they won’t suffer allergies from mountain cedar and oak and ragweed pollen, he said.

A severe asthma attack can lead to death, Coop said, but it is not real common.

Both asthma and allergies are manageable conditions, so it is very important to learn about how to best manage and treat it, according to TRICARE.

“If they use their medication everyday then their asthma is kept under control,” he said.

To avoid asthma triggers, Coop recommends people whom are allergic to pets to exclude them from their bedroom or remove them from their homes, and those allergic to dust mites should purchase dust mite covers and wash their sheets in hot water.

In addition to avoiding triggers, those with asthma should also create an Asthma Action Plan. The plan, available online at www.aafa.org/page/asthma-treatment-action-plan.aspx, gives information and instructions on how to manage asthma and what to if there is an asthma episode.

This is especially important for school-aged children, according to TRICARE.

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