Allergies can be a terrible burden, often during the seasons people most love to be outdoors. Recently the U.S. has experienced higher than average pollen levels, making things more difficult for the approximately one in six Americans who suffer from indoor/outdoor allergies.
Asthma is another bothersome respiratory condition that narrows the airways in the lungs and makes it hard for a person to breathe. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in 12 Americans had asthma in 2009.
Allergies and asthma are two of the most common chronic diseases in the U.S., but what many people are unsure about is whether or not there is a relationship between the two conditions. In fact, there are clear connections between allergies and asthma that people suffering from either condition can benefit from being aware of, both in the limiting of exposure to potential triggers and in the treatment of symptoms for each disease.
This combination is known as allergy-induced, or allergic, asthma, and it is one of the most common types of asthma diagnosed in the U.S.
Perhaps the first thing to be aware of about allergy-induced asthma is that there is a direct genetic relationship between allergies and developing asthma. If one or both parents have allergies, it is much more likely that their children will have allergies. It is also common for people who have some form of allergy to develop asthma at some point in their lives. So, it is good to be aware of family history and one’s own allergic reactions, as both can be warning signs for asthma.
In addition to genetic warning signs, many of the same substances that trigger allergies can also impact people with asthma. Pollen, spores, dust mites, and pet dander are all known allergens, but because they cause the body to react as it would to a bacteria or virus (watery eyes, runny nose, and coughing), they can cause asthma symptoms to flare up as well. Therefore it can be beneficial for asthma sufferers to pay close attention to the pollen count, limit time spent outside on dry and windy days, and be mindful of other possible allergens that may induce an asthmatic reaction. It may also be a good idea to speak to a health care professional about possible treatments for each condition that will not conflict or cause a negative reaction when used in combination.
Treatments to Help Allergies & Asthma
There are some treatments available that will address both allergic and asthmatic symptoms, but in general most treatments are focused more on one of the two individual conditions.
According to James T. Li, M.D., an allergy specialist at the Mayo Clinic, one prescription that can be beneficial to both is montelukast, or as it is known commercially, Singulair, which “helps control immune system chemicals released during an allergic reaction” and is taken as a once-daily pill.
Another possibility is immunotherapy, or allergy shots, which is obviously more involved than just taking a pill once a day.
Dr. Li describes the process and its potential benefits: “Allergy shots can help treat asthma by gradually reducing your immune system response to certain allergy triggers. Immunotherapy involves getting regular injections of a tiny amount of the allergens that trigger your symptoms. Your immune system builds up a tolerance over time, and your allergic reactions diminish. In turn, asthma symptoms decrease as well.”
Side Effects of Treatments
There are drawbacks to each of these courses of treatment.
With Singulair, there have been side effects reported, and some of them have been severe. In extreme cases, negative psychological side effects have occurred, including suicidal thoughts.
With immunotherapy, there is a concern for acute allergic reactions within 30 minutes of completing treatment. Aside from that possibility, there are not as many side effects associated with immunotherapy as with some pharmaceutical treatments, but a full course of allergy shots may take between three and five years to complete.
Of course, any possible treatment should be discussed with a doctor to figure out what will best serve any one individual’s needs.
It is important to note that while there is a strong connection between allergies and asthma, there are a variety of other possible asthma triggers to be aware of in managing symptoms, such as cold air, exercise, and other respiratory infections.
The best defense against allergies and asthma is to be aware of your own allergies and triggers, as they can change over a period of time.
By being informed, consulting with a physician, and taking steps to limit exposure, even people with the dual burden of asthma and allergies can effectively manage both conditions.