Both allergies and asthma have a maddening ability to make anyone miserable. Most of the time allergies and asthma occur together and in fact, allergy induced asthma is the most common type of asthma diagnosed in the United States. When you have both allergies and asthma, the same triggers that start your allergy symptoms will also lead to an asthmatic attack, such as shortness of breath, wheezing and chest tightness.
Allergic reactions are actually a dysfunction of the immune system that causes an over reaction to substances commonly known as “allergens”. Allergens are protein molecules that trigger the immune system. Most of the time these allergies are grouped together by the type of trigger, time of year or where the symptoms occur. For instance, indoor and outdoor allergies are also known as seasonal or perennial, food and drug allergies, latex allergies, skin allergies and eye allergies, which are all among the most common types of allergies diagnosed.
Indoor allergies are often called nasal allergies and are a reaction to those allergens which are commonly found in the house, such as cat and dog dander, dust mites and mold spores. Outdoor allergies are also called seasonal rhinitis and hayfever and happen when allergens that are commonly found outside, such as weed pollen, mold spores, and tree grass.
Asthma is a disease of the lungs in which the airways become blocked because of narrowing or inflammation. Breathing becomes difficult and in extreme cases can be life-threatening. Asthma is commonly divided into two types. These types indicate the common triggers for the individual. Intrinsic or non-allergic asthma is often triggered by internal bodily factors such as upper respiratory infections, exercise-induced asthma or lowered immune system. Extrinsic asthma, also called allergic asthma, is usually triggered by inhaled allergens such as pet dander, pollen and mold.
Allergic asthma and nonallergic asthma produces the same symptoms-airway obstruction and inflammation which is partially reversible with medication. Allergic asthma is the most common form which affects over 50% of the 20 million people who suffer from asthma in the United States.
When an individual breathes, air is usually taken in through the nose and windpipe and travels into the bronchial tubes. At the end of these tubes are tiny air sacs called alveoli whose job it is to exchange fresh oxygen for body cells with carbon dioxide. During this process bands of muscle around the airways are relaxed in the air moves freely in and out of the bronchial tubes.
During an asthma episode or “attack” there are three major changes that restrict air from moving freely. The muscles which surrounds the bronchial tubes become constricted and excess mucus is produced inside the bronchial tubes restricting air movement – both of which results in the alveoli filling with air and restricting oxygen intake for the individual.
The most common symptoms include frequent coughing, especially at night, shortness of breath, wheezing and chest tightness or pressure. Not everyone feels the symptoms or experiences them in the same way. Some individuals more commonly cough at night then have wheezing during the day, while others are able to sleep all night but have difficulty breathing during the day.
Mild episodes are usually the most common and airways often open on their own within minutes or a few hours. More severe episodes last longer and require immediate medical attention. Early warning signs will start before the more prominent symptoms begin and include frequent coughing at night, losing breath, feeling tired or weak from lack of oxygen and signs of a cold or upper respiratory infection or allergies.
Some allergy treatments will reduce asthma symptoms when the asthma is triggered specifically by allergens. By reducing the allergic response in the body most people can also reduce the reponse in the respiratory system.
By taking charge of both health issues, working with your physician, and avoiding triggers most people are able to function well and participate in daily activities – inside and out.
MayoClinic: Allergies and Asthma
KidsHealth.org: Do Allergies Cause Asthma
American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology: Childhood Asthma: Tips to Remember
American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology: Allergies
American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology: Asthma
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: Allergens and Irritants