icyou's medical editor, Mona Khanna, MD, MPH, gives an overview of allergies and asthma.
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What are allergies and asthma? Mona Khanna: Patients who have allergies or who have Asthma actually have a reaction. Their body is reacting to some kind of environmental trigger or some other kind of trigger which is causing their body to release a substance that reacts and makes them have running noses, makes them sneeze, gives them congestions, runny eyes, cough and in some cases for example, Asthma they may wheeze and have difficulty in breathing. How is asthma different from allergies? Mona Khanna: Asthma exactly is actually the combination of two reactions that are happening with your airways. The first is the airway is narrowing. It's constricting so it's not as easy for air to get in as it otherwise would be and the second is an inflammatory reaction and that's when chemicals and substances are being released that cause mucus to plug up the airway and other substances that cause reactions that again make it difficult to breathe, in fact a lot of asthmatics say that they have what we call air hunger. They're in the middle of a room just like you and I they can't get enough air to breathe that's because their airway has reacted. What are the signs and symptoms of allergies? Mona Khanna: Patients who have allergies depending on what type of product or substance that they are allergic to can have anything from running nose, cough, congestion, sneezing all the way to developing shock which is the most serious type of allergic reaction. What are the risk factors for allergies? Mona Khanna: Some of the risk factors for allergies are if it runs in the family so we often find that patients who have allergies and Asthma actually their parents have it, or sisters or brothers or other relatives have it. That's the first risk factor. The second is if you are atopic. In other words if you have a hypersensitivity already to something you are at a higher risk for developing either allergies or asthma. The third is if you have either one of those two but not the other yet, you're at a higher risk of developing the other one and the fourth is going to be if you are constantly exposed to some kind of environmental trigger that possibly can desensitize your body, so you actually can develop allergic reactions to it. How are allergies treated? Mona Khanna: Depending on what kind of allergy that you have or what type of Asthma that you have treatment is completely different but the principle is the same and that is that you want to give patients medications that are anti-inflammatory medications. For example Ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory medication. It blocks the body from releasing the chemicals that will cause your body to go into an inflammatory state and release things like mucus which causes you to have a running nose, can cause you to have runny eyes or coughing, sneezing. So you want to block this substance that leads to those symptoms. So that's the first thing that is the way that type of medication works. Then the second thing of course, actually the most important thing is to remove yourself from exposure to those triggers. If you know that pet hair is going to set up your asthma don't put yourself in a position where you're exposed to that particular pet hair. Is asthma treated differently than allergies? Mona Khanna: The basic principle of treating a patient who has asthma is you want to get the airway back into the situation that was before it reacted. So, when a person who has Asthma have an asthmatic reaction the airway closes up. It narrows and it releases inflammatory products. So, the way you treat it is you counter those two reactions. You give the patient medication called a bronchodilator and that opens the airway back up so that air can pass through it and the second thing you do is you give that person an anti-inflammatory medication. Often times to manage Asthma we use steroids. Steroids that are inhaled and we don't like to use them for years at a time because steroids have side-effects but we do use them