The Relationship Between Asthma and Allergies
Asthma and allergies are more closely related than many patients think. Although our understanding of both conditions is far from complete, several communicators have been established that allow for an association.
You may have wondered why many asthmatics also develop allergic episodes. Today, we’ll try to answer your questions based on what researchers on the subject have to say.
How are asthma and allergies related?
According to the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, 80% of asthmatics have positive results for allergy tests. In turn, according to Asthma Canada, an estimated 75% of them develop seasonal allergies on a recurring basis.
Faced with these overwhelming statistics, the question arises as to how the two conditions may be related.
To answer this question, you must first understand what mechanisms are behind each condition. For more precise details, we invite you to review all of the articles we have regarding both diseases, although we’ll summarize the most important points below.
What is asthma?
Asthma is a chronic condition of the airways that develops when the airways become inflamed and partially obstruct the flow of air. The causes of asthma haven’t been determined in a specific way, but certain triggers that can cause it have been identified.
The American Lung Association points out genetic factors, pollution, infections, and of course, allergies among the main causes. The condition manifests itself through occasional episodes, also known as exacerbations.
During an exacerbation, the patient will present a number of symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, a choking sensation, and chest pain or tightness. Asthma can’t be cured, but specialists can control it.
What are allergies?
Allergies refer to a variety of skin and respiratory manifestations that are triggered when the body overreacts to an external agent. These are called allergens or triggers and include animals, plants, foods, and insects, among others.
Researchers agree that genetic predisposition, contamination, and infections are important risk factors. They can be seasonal or perennial, occur only on the skin, or be accompanied by respiratory distress and inflammation of the mucous membranes.
Some patients manage to desensitize themselves to the trigger while, for others, the disease develops chronically. Among its most common manifestations, we find allergic rhinitis (also known as hay fever) and atopic dermatitis. Serious allergic reactions are known as anaphylaxis.
Asthma and allergies: Understanding their association
Both conditions share many characteristics in common. They can even be generated by the same mechanisms, with certain allergens being responsible for some asthma episodes.
Evidence indicates that exposure to triggers is the culprit for most persistent asthma. Therefore, avoiding them is part of the treatment in these patients.
Allergens such as pollen or dust can easily enter through the upper respiratory tract (mouth and nose). When these reach the lungs and come into contact with the bronchial tubes, an unwanted reaction is produced.
These ducts become inflamed and secrete mucus, partially obstructing the passage of air. The surrounding muscles may also swell, further limiting airflow. This is known as an asthma attack, and although they can occur in other circumstances, allergens are closely related.
The same reaction may develop after taking certain medications or after interacting with certain animals (mainly due to their dander) or insects such as mites. Many asthmatic patients notice improvements after avoiding these triggers, as happens with those who’ve been diagnosed with allergies.
Tips for asthmatics and allergy sufferers
Apart from the main treatment prescribed by the pulmonologist or allergist, some adjustments in your lifestyle can reduce your symptoms and the frequency with which you develop a reaction. Based on information from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Canadian Lung Association, we suggest the following tips:
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Avoid exposure to tobacco smoke (passively and actively).
- Reduce the contact you have with animals. If you have pets, keep them away from bedrooms and sofas.
- Keep track of your triggers so you can avoid them in the future (medicines, foods, plants, and more).
- Keep your residence dust-free. Use the vacuum whenever you can.
- Avoid going out during allergy season. When you do, wear glasses, hats, or masks (if your asthma or allergy is especially serious).
- Regularly wash sheets and covers. Opt for pieces that are designed to be mite-proof.
- Keep your windows closed during allergy season or if you live in a heavily polluted area.
- Always have your fast-acting medications on hand (a bronchodilator or epinephrine injections, if the latter are necessary).
- See a specialist if you can’t keep the episodes under control.
This last point’s very important, as you must bear in mind that there are many treatment options to stop the evolution of asthma and allergies. If you think the medications aren’t working, consult your doctor for a solution. Don’t postpone this visit, as there’s always something that can be done to improve your quality of life.It might interest you...
- Baxi SN, Phipatanakul W. The role of allergen exposure and avoidance in asthma. Adolesc Med State Art Rev. 2010 Apr;21(1):57-71.
- De Swert LF. Risk factors for allergy. Eur J Pediatr. 1999 Feb;158(2):89-94.
- World Health Organization. Prevention of allergy and allergic asthma. 2003.