Allergies and asthma most commonly occur together. This article illustrates the relationship between allergy and asthma.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Stuffy nose or runny nose.
Shortness of breath.
Tightness in the throat.
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.
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.
Allergens can be found both in indoor and outdoor environments. Following are the possible allergens that can trigger allergic asthma, and these include-
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.
It refers to the skin flakes of animals, usually from pets. Hair is grouped with dander and is considered a common allergen.
The mold produces spores that get into the air and can induce asthma. These molds are typically found in places that hold moisture.
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.
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.
The symptoms of allergic asthma are the same as the symptoms of any other type of asthma, and these include:
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:
Rashes or hives.
Running or itchy eyes.
Most treatments are approached to treat either asthma or allergic rhinitis. Few treatments help in treating both the conditions.
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.
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.
Last reviewed at:
16 May 2022 - 5 min read
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