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Allergic Asthma

What is allergic asthma?

Allergic asthma is asthma caused by an allergic reaction. It’s also known as allergy-induced asthma. You may have allergic asthma if you have trouble breathing during allergy season.

People with allergic asthma usually start feeling symptoms after inhaling an allergen such as pollen. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America reports that more than half of people with asthma have allergic asthma. Allergic asthma is treatable in most cases.

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Causes

What are the causes of allergic asthma?

You develop allergies when your immune system overreacts to the presence of a harmless substance called an allergen. Some people may develop breathing problems from inhaling allergens. This is known as allergic asthma. It occurs when the airways swell as part of an allergic reaction.

In general, inhaled allergens cause allergic asthma. Some allergens that can cause this condition include:

  • pollen
  • pet dander
  • dust mites
  • tobacco smoke
  • air pollution
  • strong odors, including scented lotions and perfumes
  • chemical fumes

Less common allergens that can cause an asthmatic reaction include:

  • cockroaches
  • milk
  • fish
  • shellfish
  • eggs
  • peanuts
  • wheat
  • tree nuts

Even though an asthmatic reaction to these allergens is less common, they may cause a more serious reaction.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of allergic asthma?

Allergic asthma and regular asthma have the same symptoms. They include:

  • wheezing
  • coughing
  • chest tightness
  • rapid breathing
  • shortness of breath

If you have hay fever or skin allergies, you might also experience:

  • itchy skin
  • rash
  • flaky skin
  • runny nose
  • itchy eyes
  • watery eyes
  • congestion

If you swallowed the allergen, these symptoms might be present as well:

  • hives
  • swollen face or tongue
  • tingly mouth
  • swollen mouth, throat, or lips
  • anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction)
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Diagnosis

How is allergic asthma diagnosed?

A skin prick test is the common way to check for allergies. Your doctor will poke your skin with a needle containing a small amount of an allergen. After 20 minutes, your doctor will check your skin for red bumps. These bumps are a sign of an allergic reaction.

Additional tests that can check whether you have asthma along with your allergies include:

  • spirometry: measures the amount of air you inhale and exhale, and looks for narrowing in the bronchial tubes of your lungs
  • peak flow: a simple test of lung function, this measures air pressure as you breathe out
  • lung function: checks whether your breathing improves after you use an asthma medication called a bronchodilator (if this medication improves your breathing, you probably have asthma)

Treatments

What are the treatments for allergic asthma?

Treating allergic asthma can involve treating the allergy, the asthma, or both.

Asthma

To treat your asthma, your doctor may prescribe inhaled anti-inflammatory medication or oral medications that help block the allergic response. A fast-acting relief inhaler, such as albuterol (ProAir HFA, Proventil HFA, Ventolin HFA) is best used to treat asthma symptoms when they occur and may be the only medication needed if you have intermittent symptoms. If you have mild persistent asthma symptoms, inhalers may be prescribed for daily usage. Examples of these include Pulmicort, Asmanex, and Serevent.

If your asthma symptoms are more severe, an oral medication like Singulair or Accolate is often taken in addition to the inhalers.

Asthma drugs and medications: What you need to know »

Allergies

Allergy treatment depends on the severity of your symptoms. You may need an antihistamine to deal with classic allergy symptoms such as itching. You might also need allergy shots if your symptoms are more severe.

Severe allergy: Symptoms and treatments »

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Complications

What are the potential complications of allergic asthma?

Allergic asthma can have serious complications. One complication is anaphylaxis. This type of severe allergic reaction may have symptoms such as:

  • hives
  • mouth or facial swelling
  • difficulty swallowing
  • anxiety
  • confusion
  • cough
  • diarrhea
  • fainting
  • nasal congestion
  • slurred speech

Untreated anaphylaxis can be life-threatening. It may cause problems such as an abnormal heart rate, weakness, low blood pressure, rapid pulse, cardiac arrest, and pulmonary arrest.

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Prevention

How can I prevent allergic asthma?

Allergic asthma attacks aren’t always preventable. However, you may be able to make them less frequent by changing your environment.

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