Allergic Asthma: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment
Allergic asthma is a type of asthma that is triggered by exposure to allergens. Individuals with allergies are more likely to develop allergic asthma. When an allergen enters the body, the immune response triggers the release of IgE antibodies which bind to the allergen, causing inflammation and a reaction in the airways. This can cause symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath.
Many people experience allergies at some point in their lives. An allergy occurs when your immune system overreacts to something that is normally harmless, like pollen from trees or grasses, animal dander, dust mites, or certain foods.
Allergists are experts who specialize in diagnosing and treating allergies. They can help you identify what you’re allergic to and provide information on how to avoid exposure to those allergens.
If you have allergic asthma, there are steps you can take to manage your condition. This may involve taking medications such as bronchodilators or corticosteroids that open up your airways and reduce inflammation.
In addition to medication, there are other things you can do to reduce your exposure to allergens and manage your symptoms. For example, you may need to avoid certain foods or pets if they trigger your allergies. You may also want to consider using air filters or dehumidifiers in your home.
People with allergic asthma should stay informed about their condition and work closely with their healthcare provider(s) for proper management. By taking proactive steps toward managing your condition and avoiding exposure to allergens, you can live a healthy life despite having allergic asthma.
The Relationship between Allergies and Asthma
Allergies and asthma are closely related because they both involve the immune system’s response to foreign substances. While allergies affect the upper respiratory system, asthma affects the lower respiratory system.
When someone with allergic asthma comes into contact with an allergen, their immune system overreacts and triggers an inflammatory response in the airways. This causes the muscles around the airways to tighten, making it difficult to breathe. The result is wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath.
People with allergic asthma are more likely to have other allergies such as hay fever or eczema. In fact, up to 80% of people with allergic asthma also have allergies to airborne substances like pollen or mold spores. This is because all these conditions share a common underlying problem: an overactive immune system that mistakes harmless substances for dangerous ones.
Causes of Allergic Asthma
Immune System Overreaction
Allergic asthma occurs when the immune system overreacts to harmless substances in the environment. When a person with allergic asthma comes into contact with an allergen, their immune system triggers the release of chemicals such as histamine and leukotrienes that cause inflammation and narrowing of the airways. This reaction can lead to symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath.
Studies have shown that genetics may also play a role in the development of allergic asthma. If one or both parents have allergies or asthma, their children are more likely to develop these conditions. However, having a genetic predisposition does not necessarily mean that someone will develop allergic asthma.
Environmental factors can also contribute to the development of allergic asthma. Exposure to pollution such as cigarette smoke and car exhaust can irritate the airways and trigger symptoms. Respiratory infections such as colds and flu can also worsen symptoms in people with allergic asthma.
Certain medications such as aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can trigger an asthmatic reaction in some people. Stress can also exacerbate symptoms in some individuals.
Not all types of asthma are caused by allergies. Non-allergic or intrinsic asthma is triggered by factors other than allergens such as exercise, cold air, stress, or anxiety.
Symptoms of Allergic Asthma
The most common allergic asthma symptoms are coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. These symptoms occur when the airways in the lungs become inflamed and narrowed in response to an allergen. Other allergy symptoms, such as itchy eyes and a runny nose, can also be signs of allergic asthma.
During an allergic asthma attack, severe asthma symptoms can occur. These may include chest tightness and difficulty breathing. Severe persistent allergic asthma is a type of allergy-induced asthma that requires ongoing management to prevent attacks.
Allergy-Induced Airway Inflammation
Allergic rhinitis can contribute to the severity of asthma symptoms and airway inflammation. When allergens enter the body through the nose or mouth, they can trigger an immune response that causes inflammation throughout the respiratory system. This inflammation leads to bronchial hyperresponsiveness, which is a common feature of both allergic and non-allergic asthma resulting in the same symptoms.
Common Triggers of Allergic Asthma
Pollen is a common outdoor allergen. It is released by trees, grasses, and weeds and travels through the air. When inhaled, it can cause an allergic reaction in some people with asthma. The severity of symptoms may depend on the amount of pollen in the air and how sensitive the person is to it.
Dust mites are tiny bugs that live in household dust. They thrive in warm and humid environments such as bedding, carpets, and upholstered furniture. When disturbed or breathed in, they can cause an allergic reaction in some people with asthma.
Mold spores thrive in damp environments such as bathrooms or basements but can also be found outdoors on fallen leaves or compost piles. When mold spores are present in the air at high levels and someone with asthma breathes them into their lungs they can cause an allergic reaction, leading to worsening asthmatic symptoms.
One of the unique challenges posed by mold spores is their ability to stimulate the growth of smooth muscle in the airways. This smooth muscle makes it more difficult for those with allergic asthma to breathe normally. Over time, this can lead to chronic breathing difficulties that require ongoing management.
Pet dander refers to tiny flakes of skin shed by animals such as cats and dogs. It can be found on furniture, floors, and clothing even when there is no pet present.
Cockroach droppings are a common indoor allergen. Cockroaches prefer warm and humid environments such as kitchens and bathrooms but can also be found in other areas of the home. When their droppings dry out and become airborne they can cause an allergic reaction, leading to worsening of asthmatic symptoms.
Hay fever, also known as seasonal allergies, is a common trigger for exacerbation of allergic asthma. When exposed to pollen, people with allergic asthma may experience wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. The symptoms can be severe enough to require emergency medical attention.
Environmental factors such as climate change can increase the prevalence of seasonal allergies and asthma triggers. Changes in temperature and humidity levels can cause plants to produce more pollen or extend their growing seasons, leading to longer allergy seasons. Air pollution can also worsen allergy symptoms and trigger asthma attacks.
Tests for Allergic Asthma
Allergy testing is an essential part of the diagnosis process to identify specific allergens triggering asthma symptoms. Allergies are one of the most common triggers for asthma attacks. Skin prick tests or blood tests can help identify specific allergens that may be causing allergic reactions. In skin prick testing, a small amount of allergen is pricked into the skin, and if a reaction occurs, it confirms an allergy to that substance. Blood tests measure the level of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies in response to specific allergens.
Lung Function Tests
Lung function tests are commonly used to assess the severity of asthma and monitor treatment progress. Spirometry measures how much air you can breathe in and out and how quickly you can do it. Peak flow measurements involve blowing into a handheld device called a peak flow meter to measure how fast air moves out of your lungs. These tests help determine whether your airways are obstructed or narrowed due to inflammation.
Other tests that may be performed include chest X-rays, blood tests, and sputum analysis to rule out other respiratory conditions and infections that may mimic asthma symptoms.
Treatment Options for Allergic Asthma
Inhaled corticosteroids are a common medication used to treat allergic asthma. They work by reducing inflammation in the airways and preventing symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. This type of medication is typically taken on a daily basis to control symptoms and prevent asthma attacks. Some examples of inhaled corticosteroids include fluticasone, budesonide, and mometasone.
Bronchodilators work by relaxing the muscles around the airways to make breathing easier. Short-acting bronchodilators provide quick relief during an asthma attack while long-acting bronchodilators can help control symptoms over a longer period of time. Examples of bronchodilators include albuterol and salmeterol.
Leukotriene modifiers work by blocking certain chemicals in the body that cause inflammation in the airways. This type of medication is typically taken daily to control symptoms and prevent asthma attacks. Examples of leukotriene modifiers include montelukast and zafirlukast.
Immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, involves injecting small amounts of allergens into the body over a period of time to help the immune system build up a tolerance to them. This can ultimately reduce the severity of allergic reactions and asthma symptoms. Immunotherapy is typically recommended for people with moderate to severe allergies that cannot be controlled with medications alone.
Management Strategies for Allergic Asthma
Asthma Action Plan
An asthma action plan is a written document that outlines steps to manage allergic asthma. The plan includes information on daily medications, rescue inhalers, and emergency contacts. Following the asthma action plan can help prevent asthma attacks and reduce symptoms.
The first step in creating an asthma action plan is to work with your healthcare provider. They will assess your condition and provide guidance on how to manage your symptoms effectively. Once you have developed a plan together, make sure you understand all the steps involved.
1. Avoid Triggers
One of the primary goals of an asthma action plan is to avoid triggers that may cause an allergic reaction or exacerbate symptoms. Common triggers include smoke, pollution, pet dander, pollen, mold spores, and dust mites.
2. Take Medications as Prescribed
Daily medications are essential for managing allergic asthma effectively. These may include inhaled corticosteroids or leukotriene modifiers that reduce inflammation in your airways or bronchodilators that relax muscles around your airways, making breathing easier. Take these medications exactly as prescribed by your healthcare provider because they need time to build up in your system before they start working effectively.
3. Monitor Symptoms
Monitoring your symptoms regularly can help identify potential problems before they escalate into more severe issues requiring emergency medical attention. Know what symptoms to look out for, including coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. If you notice any changes in your symptoms or difficulty breathing, contact your healthcare provider immediately.
4. Seek Emergency Medical Attention
In severe cases of allergic asthma, the plan may involve seeking emergency medical attention. Symptoms that require immediate medical attention include severe shortness of breath, rapid breathing or heartbeat, blue lips or fingernails, confusion, and drowsiness.
Air Purifiers for Allergic Asthma
Reducing allergens in the air is crucial for managing allergic asthma. Air purifiers can help in this regard. Allergic asthma can cause airway remodeling, leading to long-term lung function issues. Air purifiers are designed to capture allergens in the air before they enter your lungs and trigger an attack.
Consulting with a healthcare provider can help determine which air purifier products are best suited for managing allergic asthma. Some features to consider when selecting an air purifier include:
- HEPA filters: These filters are designed to trap 99.97% of airborne particles that are .3 microns or larger.
- Activated carbon filters: These filters absorb odors and gases from the air.
- Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI): This technology uses UV-C light to kill bacteria and viruses in the air.
Air purifiers have been shown to be effective at reducing allergens in the home environment. A study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that using HEPA-filtered air cleaners reduced indoor concentrations of fine particulate matter by up to 60%. Another study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that using HEPA-filtered vacuum cleaners and portable air cleaners resulted in significant reductions in levels of indoor particulate matter.
Living with Allergic Asthma
Asthma control is crucial in managing allergic asthma, as it helps patients prevent exacerbation and maintain their health. Patients should work closely with their healthcare provider to develop an asthma action plan that outlines steps to take when symptoms worsen. This plan may include monitoring peak flow readings, adjusting medication doses, and seeking medical attention when necessary.
Patients with occupational asthma should receive proper asthma education to learn how to manage their disease while at work and reduce their risk of exacerbation. According to the Mayo Clinic, occupational asthma is caused by exposure to certain substances in the workplace, such as chemicals or dust. In some cases, patients may need to avoid exposure altogether or wear protective equipment while on the job.
Medicines play a vital role in the management of allergic asthma, and patients should work closely with their healthcare provider to find the right therapy for their situation.
School nurses can provide valuable health information and care to students with allergic asthma, helping them stay healthy and active in school. They can help students understand how to manage their symptoms during physical activity and ensure that they have access to emergency medication if needed.
Living with allergic asthma can be challenging, but there are ways to manage it effectively. By understanding the causes of allergic asthma and knowing their personal triggers, individuals can take steps to reduce their exposure and minimize symptoms.
Diagnosis is key. Tests such as spirometry, skin prick tests, and blood tests can help identify allergens that trigger asthma symptoms. Once diagnosed, treatment options include medications such as inhalers, oral medications, and allergy shots.
In addition to medication, management strategies for allergic asthma include avoiding allergens whenever possible. This may involve keeping a clean home environment free of dust mites and pet dander or wearing a mask when exposed to common allergens like pollen or mold spores.
Air purifiers can also be an effective tool in managing allergic asthma by removing airborne irritants from the environment. However, it’s important to choose an air purifier designed specifically for allergies and asthma.
Seasonal allergies can be particularly difficult for those with allergic asthma. By monitoring pollen counts and taking preventative measures such as staying indoors during peak allergy seasons or wearing protective clothing outside, individuals can reduce their exposure to seasonal allergens.
Managing mold spores is another component in controlling allergic asthma symptoms. This may involve keeping humidity levels low in the home or using a dehumidifier in damp areas like basements.
Living with allergic asthma requires ongoing attention to triggers and management strategies. With proper diagnosis and treatment, individuals with this condition can lead healthy lives free from frequent symptoms.