Diagnosis, Prevention, and Medication for Allergy Asthma
Although asthma attacks are often associated with triggers like cold air, exercise, and smoke, they're also a common product of allergic reactions. Allergic asthma is caused by someone's immune system overreacting to a particular airborne substance, for example, pollen or pet dander, resulting in the same responses and symptoms as traditional asthma, such as shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness. Read on to learn about the symptoms, causes, and treatments of allergic asthma.
What Is Allergic Asthma?
Allergic asthma sometimes referred to as allergy-induced asthma, is a chronic inflammatory condition where the body's airways tighten in response to the inhalation of a given trigger. It is similar to traditional asthma. Only it also occurs as part of an allergic reaction.
An asthmatic response to an allergy trigger involves the body's immune system producing an immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody. This antibody binds to mast cells located in the upper and lower respiratory tract, releasing histamine. Histamine causes inflammation and constriction of the airways, resulting in asthma symptoms such as shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and chest tightness.
Can Allergies Cause Asthma?
Asthma is a common symptom of allergies. Allergy-induced asthma is the most commonly diagnosed form of asthma and makes up over 60% of total cases. Children are among the most susceptible to experiencing the occurrence of allergies, with diagnosed asthma at 90%, while adults sit at about 50%.
It is relatively unknown why some people develop allergic asthma and others non-allergic forms of the condition. It seems to come down to an individual's specific immune system and how it chooses to react when met with a substance it sees as threatening.
One important thing to note is that while the direct causes remain uncertain, experts identify several risk factors that can contribute to developing allergic asthma. These include existing allergies, a family history of the condition, and exposure to pollutants or other harmful substances in the environment.
What Allergies Cause Asthma?
Allergic asthma can be dual-triggered; in addition to the traditional causes like cold air, smoke, and dust, an individual may also experience an allergic reaction to specific environmental components, such as pollen and pet dander. The following is a list of some of the most common airborne allergens known to cause or worsen asthmatic symptoms.
Pollen is the leading cause of allergies, affecting millions worldwide. A powdery, microscopic substance emitted from plants, pollen is carried by the wind and consequently enters the human body in small amounts. Common sources of pollen-induced allergies include trees, grasses, and weeds. While pollen can be found in the air year-round, depending on where you live, it's most present during the spring and fall seasons as plants reproduce.
Dust mites are tiny arachnids that thrive in warm, humid environments and feed off dead skin cells. They're found in the fibers of carpets, furniture, mattresses, and other fabric-covered surfaces, making them hard to detect. The proteins in the dead bodies and droppings of dust mites can cause airway inflammation and result in asthma symptoms.
Mold is a common type of fungus that grows indoors and outdoors. It thrives in warm, moist environments and releases microscopic spores into the air when disturbed. Inhaling mold spores can cause an allergic reaction and trigger asthmatic symptoms. Common sources of mold include bathrooms, basements, and areas that have had water damage.
Dander is a microscopic substance shed from the skin, fur, and feathers of animals like cats, dogs, birds, and rodents. It's easily dispersed through the air and can linger for up to a few months if not properly removed. For those with allergies, pet dander can cause difficulty breathing and asthma attacks.
Symptoms of Allergic Asthma
The most significant symptom of allergic asthma is asthma itself. This refers to difficulty breathing, accompanied by coughing, wheezing, or chest tightness. Symptoms can also include shortness of breath, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and chest pain. It's important to note that while these symptoms may not always be consistent, they can worsen over time if left untreated.
Traditional allergy symptoms can also occur with allergic asthma but are usually not as severe. These include nasal congestion, watery eyes, sneezing, and skin rashes.
Is All Asthma Caused By Allergies?
Not all asthma is caused by allergies. While allergies can play a role in triggering asthma attacks, multiple factors can cause the condition. These include environmental factors, such as air pollution and weather; physical activities, such as running or vigorous exercise; and even some medications.
It's important to note that the causes of asthma can vary from person to person, and it's best to consult your physician for an accurate diagnosis.
What Else Causes Asthma?
Although allergies are involved in roughly 60% of asthma cases in the United States, they're not the only factor at play. There are several other irritants, risk factors, and activities that can trigger the condition, the most common of which we'll list and explain below.
Air pollution is one of the leading causes of asthma, as it can damage and irritate the airways. Prolonged exposure to ozone, particulate matter, and secondhand smoke can trigger asthmatic symptoms in those with asthma.
Harsh weather conditions such as cold air, high winds, and sudden temperature changes can also trigger asthma. Additionally, extreme humidity or dryness is another common trigger for asthmatic symptoms.
Respiratory infections, such as the flu, or colds, can cause inflammation in the airways and trigger asthma attacks. This is especially true in children, and it's important to take extra precautions during cold and flu season.
Physical activity can also cause asthma in some people. This is due to the rapid breathing that occurs during exercise, which can lead to airway inflammation and difficulty breathing. Fortunately, medications are available to help prevent and reduce exercise-induced asthma symptoms.
Exercise-induced asthma is a type of asthma triggered by physical activity. It's caused by cold air and dehydration, which can cause inflammation in the airways. This can lead to difficulty breathing, coughing, and wheezing during physical exertion.
Stress is known to be a trigger for asthma attacks in some people. This can be physical or emotional stress, and even the anticipation of an attack can trigger asthmatic symptoms. It's important to manage stress levels to reduce the risk of asthma attacks.
Aspirin and other NSAIDs interact with an enzyme known as cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1), which can lead to bronchoconstriction and asthmatic symptoms. In some cases, even over-the-counter (OTC) medications can cause an asthma attack, so it's essential to check with your doctor before taking any medication.
Acid reflux is a condition caused by the backing up of stomach acid into the esophagus. This can cause inflammation in the airways, and some people with asthma experience worsened symptoms in response.
How to Treat Allergic Asthma
While allergic asthma can be a debilitating condition to have, there are several ways to manage and mitigate its symptoms. They can be broadly classified into two categories, both of which we'll explore below.
Home remedies can be an easy line of defense against an illness. For allergic asthma, they can include lifestyle modifications such as avoiding triggers, proper hydration, and regular exercise; practicing relaxation techniques, such as yoga and meditation; and using air purifiers to improve the air quality inside your home. Other popular home remedies include:
Lavender Essential Oil
A go-to for many home remedy regimens, lavender essential oil is derived from the lavender plant. It has anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties, both of which can help reduce irritation in the airways and relieve asthma symptoms. The best way to use lavender oil is to inhale it through a diffuser or add a few drops to your bathwater.
Eucalyptus oil contains a compound called 1.8-cineole, which can reduce inflammation in the airways and improve breathing. It's best used in a diffuser or humidifier, though you can also add it to your bathwater.
Ginger has long been used as a natural remedy for various ailments, and asthmatic symptoms are no exception. Some find it effective in alleviating airway inflammation. You can consume ginger as tea or take it as a supplement.
Caffeinated Tea or Coffee
Caffeinated tea and coffee are thought to have positive effects in treating asthma symptoms. While research remains limited, experts believe it works similarly to the popular asthma medication theophylline by opening the airways.
Medication is commonly prescribed to manage allergic asthma, with the primary goal being to reduce inflammation in the airways. Corticosteroids, bronchodilators, and leukotriene modifiers are all widely prescribed to reduce the severity of asthma attacks.
It's important to note, however, that some medications - even those that are over the counter - can worsen asthma symptoms. It's always best to discuss potential side effects with your doctor before taking any medication.
In addition to medications, several devices are available to help manage asthma symptoms. These include inhalers, nebulizers, and peak flow meters. Inhalers are the most common device used, as they help deliver medication directly to the lungs conveniently and rapidly. Nebulizers are also commonly used to make inhaling medication easier and more comfortable. Finally, peak flow meters can be used to measure the rate at which air is being exhaled, giving an indication of asthma severity.
When to See a Doctor
It's important to note that while home remedies can provide some relief, they should never be used as a substitute for medical advice. Asthma can be a serious condition, so it's important to monitor symptoms and consult your doctor when needed. Seek medical attention if:
- Symptoms become more frequent and/or severe
- You experience frequent chest tightness, coughing, or wheezing
- Your peak flow meter readings drop significantly
- Your symptoms don't improve after using your medication
- You experience any other concerning changes in your condition
Your doctor can help diagnose the underlying cause of your symptoms and provide recommendations for medications or treatments to help alleviate them. They may also suggest lifestyle changes to help you better manage your condition and prevent future exacerbations.
How to Diagnose Allergies
If you are experiencing allergy symptoms, it is important to get tested and diagnosed by a professional. Knowing what your triggers are will help you find more effective treatment plans and long-term relief from your symptoms. There are two primary methods of allergy testing available.
Skin Prick Test
Skin prick testing is conducted in a doctor's office and is the most common way to test for allergies. During the test, a small amount of an allergen is pricked into your skin to observe and track any allergic reaction. If you are allergic to any tested substances, you will likely develop bumps or hives at the injection site.
At-Home Allergy Test
If you're looking for a less painful, more convenient alternative to prick testing, an at-home kit may be your best option. Here's how it works:
- Order Wyndly's at-home allergy test online. Our CLIA-certified tests are shipped directly to your doorstep.
- Take the allergy test and send it back to us. It just takes one quick finger prick test to provide a blood sample. Then, you'll mail it back when you're done.
- Receive your personalized treatment plan. Our doctor will interpret your test results, develop an allergy profile, and then meet with you to discuss your personalized treatment plan. An allergy test can reveal the full breadth of your allergies. This way, you know exactly what you're allergic to and how you can treat your symptoms.
The best part about Wyndly's at-home testing is that it can offer insight into the full breadth of your allergies. Results will detail exactly what substances you're reactive to and the steps you can take to mitigate the symptoms.
How to Treat Seasonal Allergies
If you find yourself struggling with allergies and the symptoms that come along with them, there are a few things you can do to get some relief.
Limiting exposure to your allergy triggers is one of the most effective ways to prevent allergy symptoms. While some allergens are difficult to completely avoid, there are ways to reduce your exposure.
- Check pollen counts: Pollen is the most common allergy trigger. Unfortunately, there's no way to avoid it completely. However, you can keep an eye on pollen levels in your area and try to limit your time outdoors on high-pollen days.
- Watch your outdoor hours: Pollen levels fluctuate throughout the day and are often highest in the early morning and afternoon. If you're planning on going outside during the day, doing so during the evening is safest.
- Keep windows closed: Pollen is airborne and can easily enter your home through an open window. Be sure to keep your windows shut and opt for A/C, especially during high-pollen count days.
- Take shoes off: You can track pollen into your home on your clothing and shoes. Be sure to take your shoes off as soon as you step inside to keep pollen levels down.
- Wipe off pets: Your pets can also track pollen into your home. Give them a quick wipe-down before they come inside to minimize the amount of pollen in your home.
- Clean your home: Using a vacuum with a HEPA filter can help remove pollen from carpets and upholstered furniture. Be sure to do this regularly, especially during allergy season when levels are highest.
- Wash off when you get home: If you've been outside during the day, be sure to take a shower and wash your hair before going to bed. This will help to remove any pollen that may be on your body and clothing.
- Do laundry more often: Do laundry frequently during allergy season to avoid pollen buildup on your clothes. Also, opt to use a dryer instead of leaving them on a line outside.
If mitigatory measures aren't doing the trick, you may need to turn to medication for some relief. While OTC medications are widely accessible and generally effective in managing most allergy symptoms for short-term relief, some medications can worsen asthma symptoms, so discuss any medication changes and their potential side effects with your doctor. Popular allergy medications include:
- Antihistamines: Antihistamines block histamine, a chemical your body releases in response to an allergen. While antihistamines are a popular allergy treatment, they only temporarily block the release of histamine.
- Nasal sprays: Nasal sprays are specifically designed to target runny and stuffy noses caused by allergic rhinitis. They reduce inflammation in the nasal cavity to temporarily diminish swelling and congestion.
- Eye drops: Eye drops can be used to help with itchy and watery eyes that are common among allergy sufferers.
- Prescriptions: If OTC allergy medications fail to relieve your allergy symptoms adequately, you may need to see a doctor for a prescription-strength medication.
Sublingual immunotherapy is an allergy treatment that gradually exposes your body to your allergy triggers. Over time this allows your immune system to become desensitized to the allergen, which reduces your symptoms.
Sublingual immunotherapy is administered in the form of allergy drops or tablets that are placed under the tongue. These can be self-administered in the comfort of your home, making them a convenient and effective option for treating your allergies.
Take Our Allergy Assessment
To learn whether you may have allergies that are triggering your asthma, look no further than Wyndly! Wyndly’s allergy doctors will work with you to identify what’s triggering your allergy symptoms and help you find long-term relief.
Take our easy online assessment now to get started on your journey.