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Allergy and Asthma

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Allergies and asthma most commonly occur together. This article illustrates the relationship between allergy and asthma.

Written by

Dr. Vidyasri. N

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Anjali

Published At May 2, 2022
Reviewed AtMay 3, 2024

Introduction:

Allergy and asthma are most commonly similar and share very close courses, particularly during childhood. Allergy is a common cause of asthmatic reactions, but similar reactions can be produced by non-allergen sources such as lung or chemical irritants. It is possible to have allergies without asthma or to have asthma without allergies. But these two conditions often occur together.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic lung disease of the branches of the windpipe that causes episodes of coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. Asthma symptoms such as shortness of breath are closely associated with allergies and exposure to allergic triggers such as pollen, ragweed, or dust mites. Sometimes irritants in the air like smoke, extreme weather conditions, and chemical fumes can also trigger asthma. Asthma is seen more commonly in females than males. It is a leading chronic disease in children. It is more common in male children than female children.

What Is the Relationship Between Allergy and Asthma?

The increase in the allergies and asthma are caused due to increase in the airborne pollen, urban air pollution, climatic changes that induce a rise in pollen levels, overuse of antibiotics, and the energy-proofing of indoor homes and workspaces. Since the upper airway (nose, sinuses, and larynx) and the lower airway (trachea and lungs) are connected, the irritation in the upper airway caused due to allergies is likely to cause the same irritation in the lower airways. Hence, nasal allergies can result in further exacerbation of asthmatic symptoms.

What Is an Allergy?

Allergies usually occur when the immune system reacts in response to an “allergen”- like pollen, dust, pet dander, or food. The body’s immune system responds to these allergens and fights them off like a germ or virus, which results in physical symptoms such as itching, shortness of breath, sneezing, and hives. These allergic symptoms can range from mild symptoms such as sneezing or itching to anaphylaxis, a severe life-threatening condition.

What Are the Symptoms of Allergy?

  • Sneezing.

  • Stuffy nose or runny nose.

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Wheezing.

  • Cough.

  • Rashes.

  • Fatigue.

  • Headache.

  • Fever.

  • Nausea.

  • Vomiting.

  • Tightness in the throat.

  • Trouble swallowing.

  • Dizziness.

  • Watery eyes.

What Is Allergic Asthma?

Allergic asthma is one of the common forms of asthma when allergens such as pollen are inhaled. In case of allergy to pollen, inflammatory cells are released in response to allergen exposure. These same inflammatory cells are also released in the lower airways, causing irritation, which results in an asthma attack. When allergies combine with breathing problems called asthma, then it is referred to as allergic asthma. Reports suggest that 60 % of people with asthma have allergic asthma.

Who Is at Risk of Allergic Asthma?

A positive family history of allergies is a major risk factor for allergic asthma. Hay fever and other allergies increase the risk of getting asthma. Though allergic induced asthma is very common, there are other types of asthma with different types of triggers. The other causes of asthma are triggered by infections, cold air, stress, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and exercise. The majority of people have more than one kind of asthma trigger.

What Are the Common Allergens That Can Trigger Allergic Asthma?

Allergens can be found both in indoor and outdoor environments. Following are the possible allergens that can trigger allergic asthma, and these include-

  • Pollen:

A powdery substance called pollen comes from plants. The most common pollen that is responsible for triggering allergic asthma is grass and weeds.

Some people may suffer from seasonal allergies, which flare up at certain periods of the year. This most commonly occurs in the spring because it is the season of blooming of many plants. In this period, there is more pollen in the air than in other seasons.

  • Pet Dander:

It refers to the skin flakes of animals, usually from pets. Hair is grouped with dander and is considered a common allergen.

  • Mold:

The mold produces spores that get into the air and can induce asthma. These molds are typically found in places that hold moisture.

  • Dust Mites:

These are very small and tiny spider-shaped dust mites that usually live on the soft surfaces of the home (soft furniture coverings and clothes, carpets). They usually feed on naturally shed skin flakes. Both the mites and their feces are allergens and cause allergic reactions in humans.

  • Cockroaches:

Asthma can be triggered by the saliva, feces, and other body parts of the cockroaches. These insects are commonly found in many homes and other buildings.

What Are the Symptoms of Allergic Asthma?

The symptoms of allergic asthma are the same as the symptoms of any other type of asthma, and these include:

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Coughing.

  • Wheezing (whistling noise during breathing).

  • Chest tightness (it feels like something is squeezing or pressing the chest).

These symptoms are found to be more severe during an asthmatic attack. People can experience symptoms more closely related to allergies. These allergic symptoms are usually less intense than asthma symptoms and occur only when exposed to an allergen. The allergic symptoms, which are similar to asthma symptoms, are as follows:

  • Sneezing.

  • Rashes or hives.

  • Stuffy nose.

  • Running or itchy eyes.

How Are Allergies and Asthma Treated Differently?

Most treatments are approached to treat either asthma or allergic rhinitis. Few treatments help in treating both the conditions.

  • Leukotriene Modifier:

This type of medication aids in treating both asthma and allergies. This helps to control immune system chemicals released during an allergic reaction. Montelukast is the leukotriene modifier that can treat both asthma and allergic rhinitis.

  • Anti-Immunoglobulin E (IgE) Therapy:

In case of allergy, the immune system specifically identifies the substance as harmful and releases a specific antibody known as IgE against the allergen. The antigen IgE senses the allergen and signals the immune system to release a chemical called histamine as well as other chemicals into the bloodstream. The medication Omalizumab interferes with IgE in the body and helps prevent the allergic reaction that triggers asthma symptoms. This treatment is used for severe allergic asthma, and it also helps in allergic rhinitis.

  • Allergy Shots (Immunotherapy):

Allergy shots help in treating asthma gradually by reducing immune-system response to certain allergy triggers. It involves getting regular injections of a tiny amount of the allergens that trigger symptoms. The immune system builds up a tolerance to the allergens over time and results in diminishing allergic reactions. In addition, the asthma symptoms decrease as well. This treatment requires regular injections over a period of time.

Conclusion:

The risk of allergy-triggered asthma cannot be cured but can be prevented by gaining knowledge on triggers and controlling or avoiding exposure to the environment. It can be worse at certain times during the year, which can be managed by knowing the possible ways to manage the symptoms from a health care provider and by taking the best medications to control both the conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

Can Allergy Cause Asthma?

Allergies can lead to asthma. The trigger factors are dust mites, pollen, and pet dander. Food allergies and skin allergies can also lead to asthma. 

2.

What Are the Symptoms of Asthma Caused by Allergies?

Asthma is more common in children and adults. The symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, stuffy nose, wheezing, a rash, and itchy eyes. 

3.

Are Allergies and Asthma Similar?

Spring is the time when people have allergies to asthma. Asthma and allergies are linked together. Both conditions can make the person difficulty in breathing. Both can be triggered by pollen, dust, and mold. An allergic reaction can trigger asthma.

4.

How Can Allergy Asthma Be Cured?

There is no permanent cure for allergic asthma. The main goal is to control the condition. The healthcare provider may find the triggering factors and find ways to avoid these allergens. The other is a medication that can control asthma symptoms. 

5.

What Medications Are Good for Allergic Asthma?

Inhaled corticosteroids (Budesonide, Fluticasone, Beclomethasone, and Mometasone) are good for allergic asthma. This may prevent and reduce swelling in the airways, the excess mucus, and fluid. 

6.

What Is the Effect of Allergies on The Lungs?

Allergies can cause inflammation, which can result in wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. The other symptoms include watery eyes and nasal congestion. It can also cause lung damage.

7.

Can One Use an Inhaler for Allergies?

People can use inhalers for allergies. Nasal sprays are effective if used correctly. It is designed to treat the narrowing of the airways, but they do not clear the symptoms. 

8.

Can Blood Test Diagnose Allergies?

A blood test is helpful in diagnosing allergies. The two types of blood tests include total IgE tests and specific IgE tests. It measures the total amount of IgE antibodies in the blood. The specific IgE test measures the specific IgE response to a single allergen.

9.

How Long Does It Take To Recover From Allergic Asthma?

Mild asthma attacks can last for only a few minutes and resolve spontaneously. Severe asthma attacks can last for hours to days and can be treated with specific treatment. 

10.

How Can One Do Self-Test for Asthma?

Asthma can be self-diagnosed. Shortness of breath and wheezing is a common symptom. A person can listen to breathing with a stethoscope. 

11.

What Are the Types of Asthma?

The three main types of asthma are as follows:
- Nocturnal Asthma: Asthma is prominent at night. The symptoms include wheezing, coughing, and chest pain. 
- Exercise-Induced Asthma: Physical exercise can trigger asthma. Wheezing and coughing are the most common symptoms. 
- Seasonal Asthma: The triggering factors are pollen, dust mites, dander, and mold. These factors can lead to asthma.
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Dr. Anjali
Dr. Anjali

Pulmonology (Asthma Doctors)

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