Many people think of asthma and
allergies as two completely different things. Sure, both have symptoms that can
include persistent coughing, but for the most part, asthma is thought of as a
serious condition that requires regular treatment.
What many people don’t realize is
that allergies can actually, over time, trigger asthma symptoms. That pollen
that causes you to sneeze all spring could also be causing your persistent
cough and breathing trouble.
The Relationship Between Allergies and Asthma
Allergies are actually your immune
system’s way of fighting off what it thinks is an unwanted substance entering
your body. The very system that biologically protects you against disease is
releasing chemicals called histamines that cause your annoying allergy
symptoms. Postnasal drip and sneezing are a reaction to these foreign
Similarly, asthma sufferers
experience a battle in their airways. As a result, those airways become
inflamed, making them more sensitive to everyday inhalants such as dust and
pollen. Asthma sufferers may experience symptoms year-round or seasonally, as
allergy sufferers are prone to do.
Allergies aren’t the only factor that
can trigger an asthmatic reaction. Exercise, stress, and even GERD
(gastroesophageal reflux disease) can kick an asthma attack into gear. In many
patients, a combination of these factors together at various times triggers an
Often those who suffer from asthma in
the springtime and fall, when airborne allergens are at their worst, are
allergy-induced asthma patients. It’s important to note, however, that
allergens come in a variety of forms, from household dust and other particles
to ragweed in the fall and pine around Christmastime.
Asthma vs. Allergies
Allergy symptoms include sneezing,
congestion, runny nose, and headaches. While coughing can be present in allergy
sufferers, a prolonged, disruptive cough can be a sign of the more serious
Asthma symptoms include a dry cough
that includes wheezing or whistling. An asthma sufferer will often experience
difficulty in breathing, including chest tightness.
For parents, watch for children whose
breathing may be louder or quicker than normal. Watch for changes in a child’s
play habits, as strenuous activity may become harder for children with asthma.
For many asthma sufferers, symptoms
may become worse during the night. Those suffering from asthma may also notice that
extremely cold weather exacerbates symptoms.
Seen primarily in children, allergic
shiners—or bruising around the eyes—are often connected to children suffering
from allergy-induced asthma. Allergic shiners are linked to increased blood
flow beneath the eyes because of a chronic sinus congestion. Congestion is to
blame for the issue, but there is no reason for alarm.
Allergic shiners are of note in
allergy-induced asthma because they are often a precursor to an asthma
diagnosis. Once a child has been diagnosed with allergy-induced asthma, parents
will learn to see allergic shiners as a warning of an upcoming attack.
Whether asthma is suspected in
yourself or your child, there are several things you can expect from your
medical appointment. Using a stethoscope, your doctor will listen to your
breathing to detect signs of wheezing or whistling. You will be asked to
breathe in and out, slowly and deeply, several times.
Breathing exercises are a large part
of an allergy-induced asthma diagnosis, with a lung test called spirometry used
to detect reduced lung capacity. You will be asked to
breathe into a device called a spirometer, which will measure the volume of air
you exhale, as well as the speed with which it is released.
Your doctor will also take a look at
your nose, throat, and airways, as well as asking you a number of questions
about your symptoms. While allergy tests can’t isolate asthma, it will be able
to separate out any allergens that may be complicating your allergy-induced
Treatment for Allergy-Induced Asthma
The first step to treating
allergy-induced asthma is often to treat the allergic reactions inciting
asthma. This can involve an allergy test to determine your specific allergies.
Antihistamines may be used to reduce congestion and avoid the histamine
reaction in your body. This can also be effective in reducing asthma symptoms.
Corticosteroids are often prescribed
in asthma sufferers, often in inhalant form. Theophylline is a daily pill
asthma sufferers may take in order to reduce swelling of the airways. By
reducing inflammation, allergy-induced asthma patients may once again be able
to breathe freely.