How to Know if You Have Allergic Asthma
Allergies are a pain. They cause itchy eyes, a runny nose, and discomfort. For many people, they also trigger breathing difficulties known as allergic asthma.
Allergic asthma is different from other types of asthma. With allergic asthma, your symptoms are triggered by an allergen. In some cases, you may only have symptoms when exposed to a particular trigger. But in other cases, you might have ongoing symptoms.
Allergic asthma is the most common type of asthma, affecting children and adults worldwide. Although there’s no cure, you can manage symptoms with medication and by avoiding your triggers.
What Is Allergic Asthma?
According to the American Lung Association, asthma is a chronic condition that affects about 25 million Americans. If you have asthma, your airways become inflamed. This inflammation makes them extra sensitive to things that you’re allergic to.
When you breathe in an allergen, your airways narrow and fill with mucus. This combination can cause symptoms like coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath and can induce an asthma attack.
Allergens are particles that can trigger symptoms, and they enter the body by being swallowed, inhaled, touched, or injected. Although allergen triggers are unique to each person, some of the most common include:
- Dust mites
- Pet dander
Normally, allergens trigger classic allergy symptoms like a runny nose, itchy tongue, or puffy eyes. When you suffer from allergic asthma, you may also suffer a more severe reaction that restricts breathing. But you're not alone, an estimated 60% of people with asthma have allergen triggers.
How Is Allergic Asthma Related to Regular Asthma?
Allergic asthma and regular asthma share the same symptoms. Both types of asthma can create lung swelling and restricted airways, leading to reactions like coughing, trouble breathing, wheezing, and chest tightness. What distinguishes the two is how they are triggered.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology lists the causes of non-allergic asthma, including:
- Airborne irritants (odors, cigarette smoke, and/or chemical fumes)
- Colds and viruses
- Weather changes (cold, dry, or windy)
Allergic asthma symptoms are triggered by allergens in the environment that can cause other allergic reactions. Stress and exercise, for example, don't produce particles that can be inhaled, whereas pets and plants do. These triggers are the key difference between the two types of asthma. Allergic asthma is triggered by allergens and, regular asthma is not.
What Does Allergic Asthma Feel Like?
Seasonal allergies and classic allergy symptoms are bothersome enough. So when allergens trigger an asthma attack, it can be debilitating, especially when it feels like you can't take in enough oxygen.
Common allergy symptoms include:
- Itchy or watery eyes
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Nasal congestion
- Scratchy throat or itchy tongue
Allergic asthma symptoms include:
- Breathing difficulties
- Coughing or wheezing
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
If you think you might have allergic asthma, it’s important to see a doctor. They can help you figure out if you have asthma and if allergies play a role in your symptoms.
How Does a Doctor Diagnose Allergic Asthma?
When you decide to see a doctor to discuss your allergy symptoms, they use a variety of approaches to confirm the source of your symptoms. First, they review what you're experiencing and your current medicines. Your doctor may discuss family history to see if there is a hereditary component since asthma often runs in families. They may also ask about any possible environmental circumstances, such as whether you live with animals or are near a smoker.
In some cases, the physician may order an allergy test. This test may be an in-office skin-prick test, or it could be an at-home allergy blood test.
An allergic asthma diagnosis also involves a physical exam and, if needed, comprehensive testing. Tests may include a lung X-ray and lung function tests like:
- Spirometry: Blowing into a mouthpiece to measure inhalation and exhalation.
- FeNo: Breathing into a device that measures nitric oxide in each exhale.
- Peak Flow Meter: Breathing into a handheld device that measures air movement.
- Provocation: Your doctor exposes you to potential triggers and monitors the results.
Some tests may feel uncomfortable, but they serve a purpose — to help you understand what’s causing symptoms so you can develop the right strategies and start treatment.
What’s the Best Treatment for Allergic Asthma?
The best treatment for allergic asthma is avoidance. However, that's not always possible. When you can’t avoid your triggers, the next best thing is to manage them with medication.
There are two types of medications: quick-relief and long-term control. Quick-relief drugs provide immediate but temporary symptom relief during an asthma attack or flare-up. These medications include bronchodilators like albuterol, which open up the airways and make it easier to breathe.
Long-term control drugs are taken daily and help to prevent symptoms before they start. These include inhaled corticosteroids that reduce airway inflammation.
Asthma Control Medications
These medications are taken daily to prevent and treat asthma attacks. Inhaled corticosteroids and leukotriene modifiers, the two types of asthma control medications, block airway narrowing chemicals.
This medication is administered when you are suffering from symptoms and need to get relief fast. The most common rescue medication is albuterol, which is administered with an inhaler, usually known as a rescue inhaler.
Antihistamines are used to manage typical allergy symptoms and have also been found to aid in the maintenance of open airways. Antihistamines work particularly well when administered along with asthma control therapy.
It's also crucial to avoid your allergy triggers. If you know that being around pets brings on your symptoms, avoid them as much as possible or prepare by taking an antihistamine before you are exposed.
Immunotherapy is also an effective treatment to reduce your sensitivity to triggers over time. By working to desensitize your immune system, immunotherapy reduces your body’s reaction when it encounters an allergen, making you less likely to experience allergy symptoms in the long term. Sublingual (under the tongue) allergy drops are a popular type of immunotherapy, as it doesn’t require weekly trips to the allergist’s office.
Reduce Allergic Asthma Symptoms Long-term
Long-term treatment is available for allergic asthma, which can reduce your risk of attacks and the occurrence of difficult-to-manage symptoms. At Wyndly, our allergy doctors create a personalized treatment plan based on your allergy history to help you live allergy-free. Take our 2-minute online assessment now to get started!