Allergens and Allergic Asthma
Many people with asthma also have allergies. In fact, allergens are the most common asthma trigger. This is called allergic asthma. Allergic asthma is most common in early childhood and steadily decreases through adulthood.
What Is an Allergen?
Allergens are substances that cause an allergic reaction. Allergens can enter the body by being inhaled, swallowed, touched or injected.
They cause an allergic reaction because your body thinks they are harmful. Your immune system responds by releasing an antibody called immunoglobulin E (or IgE). Too much IgE can trigger inflammation and swelling of the airways. This is an asthma flare-up or asthma attack and makes it harder for you to breathe. A similar process happens in the nose and sinus areas with allergic rhinitis (or “hay fever”).
What Is Allergic Asthma?
Having allergic asthma means allergens trigger your asthma symptoms. The common signs and symptoms of allergic asthma are the same as other types of asthma:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness or pain
- Wheeze (a whistling sound when you breathe)
- Waking at night due to asthma symptoms
- A drop in your peak flow meter reading (if you use one)
Plus, you will also have allergy symptoms, such as red and itchy eyes, sneezing, stuffiness of the nose and itchy, runny nose.
How Do I Know If I Have Allergic Asthma?
Your doctor will talk with you about your medical and family history. They will give you an exam and run tests to tell if you have allergic asthma. They may do lung function tests. They may also do allergy testing – that can include skin and/or blood tests. These tests will help find out if seasonal allergies or year-round allergies trigger your asthma. Examples of seasonal allergies include pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds. Examples of year-round allergies include animal dander, dust mites, and mold.
If you think you have allergic asthma, see a board-certified allergist.
What Is the Treatment for Allergic Asthma?
You can manage your asthma symptoms by treating both your allergies and your asthma.
Asthma medicines: Your doctor may prescribe an asthma control medicine and a quick-relief medicine. These can come as separate medicines or combined together. Inhalers are devices that deliver medicines you breathe in. Some people use a different device (nebulizer) for their asthma medicines.
Allergy medicines: Many allergy medicines are available without a prescription. They include nasal corticosteroid sprays, antihistamines, and decongestants.
Allergy immunotherapy: Some people may benefit from a treatment that trains your body to tolerate allergens better. Your allergist may recommend allergy shots or allergy tablets that dissolve under your tongue. These therapies can provide more long-term control of your allergic asthma.
Manage your allergen exposure: Once you know what you are allergic to, you can take steps to limit your exposure to those substances. This is otherwise known as environmental control.
Asthma action plan: In addition to treating and managing your asthma and allergies, you’ll also need to follow an asthma action plan. Everyone with asthma needs one. It is a plan that gives information and instructions on when and how to treat your asthma.
If you don’t have an asthma action plan, work with your doctor to fill one out.
What Are the Common Triggers of Allergic Asthma?
Learning to avoid your allergens is key to managing your allergic asthma. Find out how to avoid these common allergens:
Urine, feces, saliva, hair, or dander (skin flakes) from animals − such as cats, dogs, mice, rats and birds − are all allergens. Animal allergens are everywhere. They are even found in homes without pets.
These insects live all over the world from tropical areas to the coldest spots on earth. Studies show most urban homes have cockroaches. The feces, saliva, and body parts of these insects are believed to be allergens.
These spider-like creatures are too small to see with the naked eye. They feed on human skin flakes. Both the body parts and feces of dust mites trigger allergies. Dust mites live in warm, moist areas. They are found on beds, carpets, furniture, clothes, stuffed toys, fabric, etc.
Mold can grow on almost anything when moisture is present. Outdoors, many molds live in soil or on leaves, wood, and other plant debris. Indoors, they can be found in a damp basement, near a leaky faucet or pipe, or a wet shower stall or bathtub. Molds produce tiny spores, which are like seeds, to reproduce. These spores become airborne easily. When you breathe in mold spores, it can trigger asthma and allergies.
Pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds is a very common allergen. These airborne particles can travel hundreds of miles. Pollens peak during different seasons of the year. Due to climate change, pollen seasons are getting longer and stronger.
Medical Review July 2022 by John James, MD.
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