Some people experience allergies. Others have asthma. Then there are some who have both allergies and asthma. Research studies show that at least two-thirds of individuals who have asthma also have allergies.
So, what do allergies and asthma have in common? How are they different? How are both conditions connected to each other?
Read this article to learn more about allergies and asthma.
Why Do Allergies and Asthma Occur Together?
There are different forms of asthma. One of the most common forms is allergic asthma or allergy-induced asthma.
The same substances or allergens that trigger hay fever allergies trigger allergic asthma. These allergens include pollen, pet dander, and dust mites. In some cases, skin and food allergies also trigger asthma symptoms.
Atopy is the underlying mechanism that allergies and asthma have in common. It is the genetic tendency to develop allergic diseases like allergies, allergic asthma, and eczema (atopic dermatitis).
Atopy is associated with an overactive immune response. The immune system responds to common allergens as if they are dangerous. In this process, the immune system creates antibodies for specific allergens. This reaction triggers symptoms like stuffy or itchy nose, swollen and watery eyes, coughing, sneezing, wheezing, and fatigue.
Asthma is a chronic condition that affects the lungs. This condition makes breathing difficult and uncomfortable. Allergic asthma has an overactive immune system as an underlying mechanism.
Triggers such as stress, medications, air temperature, or infections of the airway may trigger non-allergic forms of asthma.
Allergy vs Asthma Symptoms
A person with asthma will experience symptoms affecting the lungs. The most common symptoms include:
Shortness of breath
Tightness in the chest
These symptoms develop because the lungs’ airways react to allergens by narrowing themselves. Additionally, excess mucus further limits the air allowed in the respiratory tract. In some cases, the symptoms of asthma go away on their own, without taking any medication. In other cases, they worsen, leading to asthma attacks or flare-ups.
Signs and symptoms of worsening asthma include feelings of panic, constant coughing, and tightness of the neck and chest muscles. Wheezing is experienced during inhalation and exhalation. A person may have a pale, sweaty face and have problems walking or talking. If someone experiences these severe asthma symptoms, call 911 immediately. They will need medical attention from a hospital right away.
Like asthma, allergies are also associated with difficulty breathing. Typical allergic rhinitis symptoms include:
Inflamed nasal passages
Red and watery eyes
In the case of food allergies, someone ingests an allergen rather than inhales it. Symptoms of food allergy reactions include:
Tingling and itching of the mouth
Swelling of the lips
The severe form of allergy is anaphylaxis, which can lead to shock. Anaphylaxis is most often triggered by food allergies in children or drug allergies in adults. Signs of life-threatening anaphylaxis include:
Swollen throat or tongue
Severe drop in blood pressure
Loss of consciousness
If someone experiences these symptoms, call an ambulance. They will need immediate medical attention.
Therapies That Treat Both Allergies and Asthma
For the most part, allergies and allergic asthma have different treatments. However, a few treatments can help both conditions.
Some use leukotriene modifiers like montelukast (Singulair) to treat allergies and allergic asthma. Allergy shots, known as immunotherapy, can also help with both conditions. These shots gradually reduce the immune system’s response to certain allergens. Allergy shots contain small amounts of allergens and should be taken regularly. The immune system will build tolerance, and the allergic or asthmatic reaction decreases.
IgE therapy can be useful for both conditions. Drugs like omalizumab (Xolair) interfere with the IgE, helping prevent the immune response. Doctors reserve these drugs for severe forms of allergic asthma and allergies.
How to Manage Both Allergies and Asthma
An allergist is a doctor who specializes in allergies and immunology. They can help you receive the right treatment and adjust it as needed. In addition to prescription medication and therapies, it’s best to avoid allergens.
Maintain a healthy diet, and avoid processed foods. Try to stay active, and get seven to eight hours of good quality sleep every night.
It is important to know when the pollen counts are high and avoid going out or opening the window.
Change your clothes, remove your shoes, and take a shower when you come home. Avoid accumulation of mold in bathrooms or basement. Keep the humidity below 50% and make sure the air conditioner is regularly cleaned.
There is a direct connection between allergies and asthma. Those who have allergies are also likely to have allergic asthma. This is partly due to genetics.
It is possible to manage these conditions and their symptoms. Talk to your doctor about the best treatment options for your condition.