Living Well

Is it asthma or allergies?

Spring allergy season brings its own set of challenges for allergy sufferers, but the season can be even more difficult for those with asthma as well. Many individuals are confused by asthma and allergy symptoms because they are so similar, and often these two conditions are directly related to one another.

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, more than 25 million Americans with asthma also have allergies, which is called allergic asthma. This condition occurs when asthma symptoms are triggered by airborne substances, such as pollen, pet dander, mold and other allergens that are present in the surrounding environment.

But not all allergy sufferers have asthma and understanding the differences between these conditions is key to managing one's symptoms of either condition. Let's examine the key characteristics of asthma and allergies from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).

Asthma

Asthma is an incurable condition in which breathing passages narrow and produce more mucous than normal, which can trigger breathing difficulties like wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. Asthma can be triggered by a number of factors, but typically asthma is triggered by exercise, workplace irritants (dust, chemicals, gases) or allergens that are present in the environment.

Allergies

Allergies are a direct immune response after allergens enter or come into contact with the body and produce an allergic reaction. These allergic responses are caused by the body's natural ability to produce antibodies, which typically ward off foreign invaders and fight infections in the body. However, when an allergen (such as dust, pollen or pet dander) is introduced to the immune system, antibodies will recognize this as a potential threat (when it is actually harmless), and will trigger an immune system response that can manifest itself as sinus, digestive system, skin or respiratory issues.

How do these two conditions relate?

While allergies can trigger asthma symptoms, the primary difference between an allergic reaction and an asthma attack is where it occurs within the body, reports Health Guidance. Allergens trigger a response in the upper respiratory system, while asthma attacks affect the lungs and upper bronchial passages. In the case of allergic asthma, allergens are the primary driver of the triggering of asthma symptoms, which presents unique challenges from a treatment perspective.

As such, individuals who have both allergies and asthma will have to take more advanced steps to control their conditions and minimize their symptoms. The vast majority of medical treatments will treat either asthma or allergies, but some can also treat both conditions. According to the Mayo Clinic, these include:

  • Allergy Shots: Regular allergy shots are a form of immunotherapy that helps to treat both asthma and allergy symptoms by gradually reducing the body's immune system response to particular allergy triggers. For this treatment to be effective, allergy shots are administered over a period of 3-5 years to ultimately diminish allergic and asthmatic reactions.
  • Anti-immunoglobulin E (IgE) therapy: Coming into contact with an allergen will trigger an immune response in the body which consists of a release of antibodies to attack the allergen, which are referred to as lgE. This sparks the release of histamine, which causes an inflammatory effect in the body that results in allergic reactions. Medications such as omalizumab (Xonair) directly interferes with lgE in the body to help prevent histamine release and subsequent allergic reactions.
  • Leukotriene Modifiers: These medicines are used to control the symptoms of allergic rhinitis or allergies, as well as tackling asthma attacks as well. These drugs block the action of leukotrienes, which are chemicals released by the immune system that cause tightening of breathing passages and the production of excess mucous. The most common of these is Montelukast (Singulair).

This allergy season, make sure you're prepared for the worst by shopping for Allergy, Sinus & Combinations at FSAstore.com! We have the web's largest selection of FSA/HSA eligible products to help you maximize the potential of your healthcare benefits!

Living Well

5 ways to create an allergen-free home this spring

Spring is here in full swing, and if you suffer from seasonal allergies, this is a particularly trying time of year. High pollen counts will lead to runny noses, itchy eyes and sneezing throughout the early weeks of April as the seasonal bloom commences, and while you can't control the conditions outdoors, you can take the appropriate steps to make your home a haven from the allergic triggers outside!

Allergens in the home can exacerbate your symptoms or interfere with your sleep cycle, so it's important to take the necessary steps to keep your home clean this spring to keep your allergic symptoms under control. Here are a few great ideas to keep in mind from FSAstore.com.

  1. Change your "coming home" routine

Open windows are the primary culprit for allergens making their way into the home, but even if you keep them closed all spring, you can bring a large amount of pollen, dust and other irritants into your abode on your clothing. As allergy season gets underway, make conscious changes to your routine when you walk in the door.

First, remove all clothing and put it in the laundry machine if available to wash off all potential allergens. Also, make an effort to take a shower soon after coming indoors to wash off all pollen and particulates on your hair and skin that could be transferred to bedding and other surfaces in your home.

  1. Switch out your winter drapes

A smart change for seasonal allergy sufferers in spring is to switch out your winter drapes with lightweight curtains. Thick drapes with pleats are notorious for trapping dust and other allergens, so opt for blinds that can be wiped down quickly during the spring. Or as an alternative, opt for machine washable drapes that you can clean several times throughout the season to keep your home free of allergens.

  1. Invest in mattress and pillow allergy covers

In addition to the buildup of allergens on sleeping surfaces, dust mites also become increasingly prevalent during the spring months. Anti-allergy mattress and pillow covers are made with tightly-woven synthetic materials or vinyl to provide a barrier between the person and the dust mites on the underlying sleeping surface. These covers keep the allergens that have built up on the bedding from becoming airborne when shifting during sleep, which can dramatically reduce your allergic symptoms.

The difference in the cost of an allergy cover vs. a standard pillow/mattress cover may even be eligible for FSA reimbursement, so check with your benefits administrator before making a purchase!

  1. Carpeting vs. bare floors

Ideally, those who suffer from seasonal allergies will have bare floors in their home (hardwood, vinyl, etc.) that are easier to clean and do not retain as many allergens. However, if your home is carpeted, this will require extra care during allergy season. First, invest in a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to trap allergens when cleaning, or look into a steam cleaning service that utilizes high temperature cleaning devices to remove allergens.

  1. Use a dehumidifier

The rainy, wet nature of spring lends itself to rapid mold growth, and you can make an effort to stem the growth of mold in your home by using a dehumidifier. Mold thrives in moist, humid environments that have a relative humidity above 60 percent, reports Allergy Consumer Review. In areas where mold growth is prevalent, run a dehumidifier to lower the humidity to 50 percent where mold growth will become inactive.

This allergy season, control your symptoms with Allergy, Sinus and Combinations and other anti-allergy products from FSAstore.com! We have the web's largest selection of FSA-eligible products to help you maximize the potential of your healthcare benefits.

Living Well

What is a pollen count?

Allergy sufferers have learned to dread the early weeks of spring. Everywhere you turn, there is a yellow-green film of pollen on cars, glass and other outdoor surfaces that can trigger watery eyes, sneezing and sniffling all day long.

Before you walk out the door each morning, you may have gotten in the habit of checking the pollen count in your area so you can prepare for your worst allergy symptoms. But have you ever wondered how these numbers are measured and what they really mean? Let's examine what you should know about pollen counts as spring kicks off!

How are pollen counts measured?

Pollen counts are fixtures of weather reports in the spring and summer, and this number is taken using a sampling system called a "rotorod." According to Pollen.com, this rod consists of an array of silicone grease coated clear rods that are exposed to the air at key points throughout the day. These rods are then stained or examined under a microscope to measure the concentration of pollen grains, which are then converted to a concentration that is measured in grains per cubic meter of air.

Pollen counts are typically measured on a scale of 0-12 that take into account the amount of pollen an allergy sufferer will be exposed to during a given day. Low pollen levels come in at 0-2.4, Low-Medium is 2.5-4.8, Medium is 4.9-7.2, High-Medium is 7.3-9.6, and High is 9.7-12.0. According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, these rotorods must be placed on a rooftop at least one story high, as well as away from any significant pollen or mold sources that could skew the results.

How to stay on top of pollen counts

While increasing numbers of local and national television news stations have begun reporting pollen counts with their traditional forecasts, allergy sufferers should take the initiative in early spring to stay on top of pollen forecasts. Here are a few free apps to keep in mind:

  • Weather.com App: The Weather Channel's app is already one of the most popular weather apps available, but it also has the option of setting up pollen alerts that can be sent to your device via text or email.
  • Pollen.com Allergy Alert: The Pollen.com Allergy Alert app will provide information and alerts about pollen forecasts in your zip code. This app has the added benefit of in-depth information about top allergens with detailed plant descriptions and images in your area.
  • AllergyManager: In addition to measuring pollen counts in your area, the AllergyManager app lets you track seasonal allergens, pollen counts, and the severity of your symptoms. As an added benefit, the app also has a medication refill reminder to ensure that you can stay on top of your allergy medicine purchases.
  • Zyrtec AllergyCast: This is among the most popular allergy tracking apps available that provides pollen and weather forecasts, notifications for high pollen levels, as well as indicators for which types of pollen are prevalent at the moment, and actionable tips on how to deal with them.

Last but not least, rely on FSAstore.com and HSAstore.com to purchase allergy, sinus and combinations, Neti pots, saline solution and everything you need to survive allergy season! Explore the web's largest selection of FSA/HSA-eligible products and maximize the potential of your healthcare benefits!

Living Well

How should I prepare for a high pollen count?

Do you have seasonal allergies and do you follow when there is a high pollen count? There are ways to prepare for a high pollen count, and treat allergies!

Do you have seasonal allergies and do you follow when there is a high pollen count? As much as you may rely on cold & allergy medications and other solutions to keep symptoms at bay, the catalyst is a high pollen count for many people. More than 60 million Americans suffer from allergic rhinitis, which refers to the physiological response of an individual who inhales an allergen, which results in symptoms in the eyes and nose. If your trigger is pollen, this is known as "hay fever," and it can make your life miserable when pollen counts start to soar.

A pollen count is calculated by measured the concentration of pollen in a certain area during a specific period (usually 24 hours). The measurement utilizes air-sampling devices that collect particles from the air onto a transparent, sticky service. The particles are analyzed under a microscope to measure how many pollen grains are present. The National Weather Service and most local news stations are the best sources of information about pollen counts, but what should you do when high pollen counts arise?

Here are a few tips about preparing for a high pollen count:

Sign up for pollen count alerts

The Weather Channel app is already handy for checking the weather forecast on the go. You may also be able to set up pollen count alerts on your smartphone or other mobile device. Alerts will give you extra time to prepare for high pollen counts.

Keep your home closed

Keeping windows closed prevents the spread of pollen and other allergens throughout your home. You can run the air conditioning instead. This will ensure that your home is as sterile as possible, which can help stop your allergy symptoms in their tracks after a long day contending with them.

Invest in pollen masks

Wearing a pollen mask on days when the pollen counts are particularly high and the air quality is low can keep pollen at bay. Pollen counts are at their highest during the hours of 5 am and 10 am, so wearing a mask during these peak hours can dramatically limit your allergic reactions.

Wash up!

After you come home each day, make an effort to throw your clothes in the laundry machine quickly to remove all traces of pollen and to prevent it from ending up on your home's furnishings. Next, hop in the shower to wash off any pollen that may be lingering on your hair and skin. This is a smart strategy to keep your home as sterile as possible and to avoid re-triggering your symptoms.

Summer can be a trying time for allergy sufferers, but you can be confident on high pollen count days with cold & allergy products from FSAstore.com! We have the web's largest selection of FSA-eligible items!

Living Well

Does my child have a cold or allergies?

Sometimes it's hard to tell whether your child is dealing with the common cold or allergies. How can you know? Here are 4 ways to find out on the blog!

With the arrival of a new season comes its own share of health challenges, especially when those pollen counts begin to soar. If you haven't tested your child for seasonal allergies, why not do that this season? Sensitivity to environmental triggers could emerge at any point during adolescence. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to tell whether you're dealing with the common cold or a direct response to seasonal allergies.

Here are a few ways to know if it's a cold or allergies:

Duration of symptoms

One of the tell-tale signs of allergies is that they will persist for weeks on end. The common cold which typically clears up in 1-2 weeks with rest and treatment. As long as your child is exposed to indoor/outdoor areas with allergy triggers, he/she will continue to experience symptoms throughout the season, so this is a clear indication that a cold is not the culprit.

Nasal discharge color

In the event that your child has contracted a virus, the color of his/her mucous is an important warning sign that can let you know what your child is suffering from. During a cold, mucous becomes thicker, as well as taking on a green or yellow hue, while those suffering nasal congestion from allergies will have clear, thinner mucous. However, it's important to note that sinus infections can sometimes be caused by allergies and will change mucous color to yellow, so be mindful of this when making a diagnosis.

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Fever/Muscle Aches

Allergies can bring about many of the most common cold symptoms, but others only arise in the presence of a virus. A fever and body aches are normal immune system responses, as well as clear signs that the body is fighting an infection and is actively producing antibodies to stave it off. These bodily functions do not occur as a result of allergies.

Shop for Hot and Cold Packs

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Indoor/Outdoor Symptoms

Last but not least, if you find that your child tends to experience watery eyes, a runny nose or sneezing more often outdoors than at home, this is a clear sign that the allergens present in the environment are triggering his/her symptoms. Endeavor to keep your home as allergen-free as possible by removing clothing at the door, cleaning often and encouraging your child to shower frequently to remove any allergens still present on his/her skin and hair.

Shop for Cold and Allergy products

Spring is here, so make sure you're ready for the worst of allergy season by shopping at FSAstore.com! We have the web's largest selection of FSA-eligible products to help keep you and your loved ones healthy year-round.

Eligibility

Treat spring eye allergies with an FSA

There are several ways to treat spring eye allergies with your FSA and reduce itchy symptoms. Learn more in this blog post.

While people often associate allergy season with coughing and sneezing, allergy symptoms can also show up in red, itchy, watery eyes. And, there's good news: these symptoms can be treated, and you can use a Flexible Spending Account, or FSA, in the process.

Though allergies can be seasonal (especially in spring with higher pollen counts), they don't necessarily have to be seasonal, if eyes are sensitive to other environmental factors. But, there are several ways to treat eye allergies with your FSA and reduce itchy symptoms.

Here are a few tips from WebMD, "Stay indoors when pollen counts are highest, usually in mid-morning and early evening. Close the windows and run the air conditioner (window fans can draw in pollen and mold spores). If you go out, wearing eyeglasses or bigsunglasses can help block pollen from your eyes. Driving? Keep the windows closed and run the air conditioner."

You can shop for prescription eyeglasses with an FSA

In addition to that, WebMD recommends keeping a clean home and cleaning floors with a wet mop. "Sweeping tends to stir up rather than get rid of allergens. Especially if a pet shares the house with you, consider replacing rugs and carpets, which trap and hold allergens, with hardwood, tile, or other flooring materials that are easier to clean. Go with blinds instead of curtains."

Alternatively, you can tryrinsing eyes out with saline solution or eye lubricants.

And, finally, WebMD also urges people to fight the urge to rub or itch their eyes, as that could intensify allergy symptoms. The WebMD experts recommend using cool compresses for relief.

Shop for cool compresses with an FSA

If these at-home remedies don't work, you can also try prescription medications to fight allergy symptoms.

Take oral histamines like Zyrtec or Claritin to treat symptoms and get relief

Shop for Rx Eye Care for Allergy Relief.Note: you'll need a prescription to get reimbursed by your FSA.

Finally, if your allergies persist or worsen, it could be best to check in with your doctor. You could use an FSA to cover the deductible, or co-pay for the visit.

Learn about additional eligible expenses via the FSA Eligibility List

Eligibility

FSA allergy relief for baby/child

When you think about spring, allergies are not the first thing on your mind. But, they can turn into a problem. Luckily, you can get FSA allergy relief!

When you think about spring, allergies are not likely the first thing on your mind. But, they can turn into a problem. Luckily, you can get FSA allergy relief!


In an article by WebMD, one doctor mentions that allergies can often go undiagnosed, particularly related to kids. "A lot of parents don't realize," says Neeta Ogden, MD, an allergist in Closter, N.J. "They assume that the constant runny nose and sneezing are just what happens when a child's exposed to day care germs." And, that's possible!

So, what can you do if you think your child or baby has allergies, but you're not really sure?

Get FSA Allergy Relief

1. Ask a doctor. If you're not sure if your baby or child has a cold or allergies, it's best to ask your doctor. You likely won't know until you get some answers, or until your doctor does tests. You can use your FSA to cover costs related for FSA allergy relief, including co-pays and deductibles.

It can be hard to tell whether we're dealing with an allergy vs. a cold. WebMD mentioned that allergy tests could help (for kids 3 and older), but it's more difficult in kids younger than 3.

WebMD also recommends thinking about symptoms getting worse while near pets, or at different seasonal times.

2. Treat allergies at home. You can buy over-the-counter medicines with your FSA (these require a prescription to get reimbursed with your account), including Benadryl and Zyrtec. However, it's best to consult a doctor if this is a necessary step in FSA allergy relief for your child and to find out what the appropriate dosage/age is for that.

3. Products at FSAstore.com for FSA Allergy Relief:

  1. Nasal aspirators and saline solution. If you think your baby or child might have allergies or is congested, you can help fight a stuffy nose with nasal aspirators or saline solution.
  2. Medicators. If you need to administer some type of medication, there are special medicatorsthat make it easy to deliver medications in a pain-free way.

Shop for kids' allergy products at FSA Store.

Curious about what's covered by your FSA? Browse our FSA Eligibility List.