Allergies and asthma are two of the most common chronic diseases. Asthma is a lung disease that causes the airway to close and makes it very hard to breathe. Allergies and asthma frequently arise together.
What is Allergy?
Your immune system is designed to protect you from bacteria and viruses. However, if you have allergies, part of your immune system works too hard. It may target harmless substances such as cat dander or pollen in your nose, lungs, eyes, and under your skin.
If the body comes across an allergen, it makes chemicals called IgE antibodies. They induce the release of chemicals such as histamine, which cause swelling and inflammation. This triggers familiar symptoms such as a runny nose, itchy eyes, and sneezing as the body attempts to expel the allergen.
Food allergies and asthma coexist in many children, and recent findings have shown that these co-morbid conditions raise the likelihood of morbidity. Children with food allergies and asthma are more likely to have near-fatal or fatal food allergic reactions and are more likely to have serious asthma.
Allergies and Asthma Symptoms
Both allergies and asthma can cause respiratory symptoms, such as cough and airway congestion. However, there are also signs that are specific to each condition. Allergies can trigger the following symptoms:
- watery and itchy eye
- sneezing and runny nose
- scratchy throat and rashes
- hives and swollen lips
- swollen tongue, or throat
Asthma rarely cause these symptoms. People with asthma suffer most often:
- chest tightness
- difficulty breathing
- tightness in the throat
- feeling that airways are closing
- hoarseness or trouble speaking
- fast heartbeat or pulse
- anxiety or dizziness
Asthma cannot be cured, but its symptoms can be managed. As asthma frequently changes over time, it is important that you work with your doctor to monitor your signs and symptoms and change your care as needed.
If you have allergic asthma, your airways are very susceptible to such allergens. When they get into your body, your immune system is over-reacting. The muscles in your airways are contracting. The airways are inflamed and over time they are filled with thick mucus. Whether you have allergic asthma or non-allergic asthma, the symptoms are usually the same.
Allergic Asthma Causes
Allergic reactions occur when immune system proteins (antibodies) misidentify a harmless substance, such as tree pollen, as an invader. To shield the body from the substance, antibodies are bound to the allergen.
Chemicals produced by your immune system cause signs and symptoms of allergy, such as nasal congestion, runny nose, itchy eyes, or skin reactions. For certain cases, the same reaction often affects the lungs and airways, leading to symptoms of asthma.
Family history also affects a person’s likelihood of developing allergic asthma. If one or both parents have allergies, their children are much more likely to have allergies. Allergies such as hay fever can also increase your risk of developing asthma.
Allergens, breathe deeply into the lungs, include:
- pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds
- animal dander from hair, skin, feathers, and saliva
- dust mite feces and cockroach feces
- mold spores and fragments
However, allergens are not the only thing that can make your allergic asthma worse. Irritants can still induce an asthma attack, even though they do not cause allergic reactions. These include:
- smoke from tobacco, a fireplace, candles, or incense
- air pollution, cold air, or exercise in cold air
- strong chemical odors, fumes, or dusty rooms
- perfumes, air fresheners, or other scented products
Allergic Asthma Diagnosis
A skin test is a common way of testing for allergies. Your doctor will draw a small circle on your skin and poke the middle of the circle with a small amount of allergen. Your doctor will check your skin for red bumps after 20 minutes. These bumps are symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Additional tests to confirm if you have asthma and allergies include:
Spirometry: tests the amount of air you inhale and exhale will expose the narrowing in the bronchial tubes of your lungs.
Peak Flow: a basic lung function test that tests the air pressure when you breathe out.
Lung function: check if your breathing improves after you use an asthma drug called a bronchodilator. If the drug improves your breathing, you probably have asthma.
Allergies and Asthma Treatment
According to Mayo Clinic allergy specialist James T C Li, M.D., Ph.D., many of the medications are intended to treat either asthma or allergies. But for both conditions, only some treatments help. Some examples are:
Leukotriene modifier: Montelukast (Singulair) can relieve symptoms of both allergy and asthma. Called a leukotriene modifier, this daily pill helps regulate the release of immune system chemicals during an allergic reaction. In rare cases, montelukast has been associated with psychological reactions, including suicidal thoughts. Immediately seek medical attention about any unusual psychological reactions to one of these medicines.
Allergy shots (immunotherapy): Allergy shots can help treat asthma by progressively reducing the reaction of your immune system to such allergy triggers. Immunotherapy includes receiving daily doses of a small amount of allergens that cause the symptoms. Your immune system develops immunity to allergens over time, and your allergic reactions decrease. Asthma symptoms, in fact, often decrease. In general, this procedure requires daily doses over three to five years.
Anti-immunoglobulin E (IgE) therapy: When you have an allergy, the immune system falsely recognizes a particular material as dangerous and releases antibodies, known as IgE, to the suspect allergen. The next time you experience this allergen, IgE antibodies will feel it and signal your immune system to release a chemical called histamine, and other chemicals into your bloodstream. Omalizumab (Xolair) is a drug that interferes with IgE in the body and helps prevent an allergic reaction that causes symptoms of asthma.
You may need other drugs to treat allergies or asthma, particularly if your symptoms often become extreme. However, the most important action you can take is to identify and avoid substances that cause your symptoms.
Through being educated, working with your doctor, and taking action to minimize risk, both asthma and allergies sufferers can successfully control their conditions. However, it is important to remember that while there is a clear correlation between allergies and asthma, there are several other potential causes of asthma that need to be found. Some of the most common non-allergenic causes are cold weather, exercise, and other respiratory infections.
- Allergies and asthma: They often occur together. Mayo Clinic.
- Difference between allergies and asthma. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
- Allergic Asthma. webMD.
- What Is Allergic Asthma? webMD.
- Allergens and Allergic Asthma. AAFA.
- Food allergies and asthma. Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol. 2011.