Definition & Overview

Asthma, a common disease that affects around 235 million people worldwide, causes swelling of the airways (bronchial tubes) that supply air to the lungs. This often results in wheezing, coughing, and breathing difficulty.

Meanwhile, an allergy is the reaction of the body’s immune system to a foreign substance. When the immune system detects the presence of potentially harmful substances called allergens, it activates antibodies and releases different chemicals that produce symptoms commonly associated with allergic reactions, such as nasal congestion and sneezing.

In some people, asthma is triggered as an allergic reaction, hence the term allergic asthma. Of the different forms of asthma, allergic asthma is the most common and affects people of all ages, race, and gender. Unfortunately, the cure for asthma is yet to be discovered, which is why the number of cases worldwide continues to grow at an alarming rate. However, knowing the substances that are likely to produce an allergic reaction and avoiding them will help prevent asthma attacks.

Cause of Condition

Allergic asthma is triggered by the immune system’s response to certain allergens, such as pollens from trees, weeds, grass, fur, animal skin and saliva, cockroach feces, dust mite, dust, and certain types of fragrances or smells.

Once an allergic reaction is triggered, other substances such as tobacco, air pollution, chemical fumes, and scented products may worsen the condition.

Key Symptoms

During an allergic asthma attack, the patient will experience both the symptoms of an allergy and asthma such as a runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, skin reactions, breathing difficulties, chest tightness, and wheezing.

It’s important to understand that the symptoms may or may not appear immediately in response to a certain trigger, making it difficult to determine exactly what the triggers are, which are different from person to person.

Who to See & Types of Treatment Available

If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, you should consult your doctor for diagnosis and treatment right away. If the diagnosis points to allergic asthma, you will be referred to a specialist, such as an immunologist or an allergist.

Asthma may not have a cure, but medications can easily control the symptoms, making the condition non-life-threatening.

If you consult a doctor presenting the above symptoms, the doctor will likely suspect asthma, but may not immediately suspect allergic asthma. To make a diagnosis, several lung function tests will be performed which will require a variety of machines and devices. Some tests are performed while you’re at home to determine the state of your airway during the day and at night.

If the doctor suspects that asthma is caused by an allergic reaction, allergy skin tests will be performed to identify the exact trigger. This involves exposing your skin to certain types of allergens to identify those that produce a reaction. A chest x-ray will also be ordered to assess the condition of your lungs and to identify any other medical conditions that may be aggravating your asthma.

The treatment for your condition will depend on the type of asthma that you have. Keep in mind that there is no cure for asthma and that medications can only treat the symptoms so that they don’t affect your daily activities. In addition to medications, you’ll also need to avoid exposure to certain allergens that were identified during the allergy skin test.

Treatment includes nasal allergy medications, saline rinses, and decongestant nasal sprays. In more severe cases, nasal steroid sprays and stronger antihistamines may be prescribed. If your condition does not improve after using these medications, your doctor may consider giving you allergy shots, inhaled steroids and bronchodilators (opens up your airways).

References:

  • American Academy of Asthma, Allergy, and Immunology: "What to expect at the doctor's office," "How to help your allergies and asthma," "Allergic asthma information," "Is your asthma allergic?"

  • American Medical Association, Essential Guide to Asthma, 1998.

  • National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: "Asthma: How is Asthma Diagnosed?" "How is asthma treated?"

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