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 substances.
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 asthma attack.
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 illness: asthma.
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 asthma symptoms.
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.