Allergies and Asthma: What Is The Connection?

Last updated: March 2021

We often talk about allergies and asthma in the same breath, but the truth is, they're not always connected. Still, about 60% of the 25 million people in the U.S. who have asthma do have the allergic type of asthma. In this post, we'll take a closer look at the asthma and allergy connection.

Types of asthma

There are a few different types of asthma, about 40% of them being non-allergic in nature. They include:

  • Exercise-induced asthma, also known as exercise-induced bronchospasm (EIB, for short)
  • Occupational asthma, where symptoms are triggered by the workplace environment
  • Allergic asthma, where symptoms are triggered by allergens in the environment

Defining allergic asthma

This type of asthma is set off, or triggered, by substances in the environment called allergens. Allergens cause your immune system to interpret common things in the environment as a threat to your health. In response, your immune system releases a substance called immunoglobulin E (or IgE).

When you have too much IgE in your body, your body produces a hormone called histamine. When that happens, you'll develop inflammation and swelling in your airways. This can result in symptoms such as:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness
  • Cough

Environmental allergens

So, what are these so-called allergens in our environment? Well, they can vary from person to person, but can include:

  • Tree, grass and weed pollen
  • Dust mites
  • Molds
  • Pet dander, urine and saliva
  • Insect droppings

Other irritants in the air that can also trigger allergic asthma symptoms may include tobacco smoke, strong odors and chemical fumes.

Some allergens are present year-round, while others are more prevalent during certain seasons. If you're lucky like me (not!), you may be allergic to both year-round and seasonal allergy triggers.

Why you might have the allergic type of asthma

Scientists are still exploring the ins and outs of the allergy and asthma connection, but we do know that there are certain risk factors that make it more likely for a person to develop allergic asthma. Having these risk factors does not mean you will definitely have allergic asthma. It just means there is a greater chance you will.

They include:

  • Family history of allergies, allergic skin conditions and/or asthma
  • Frequent viral respiratory infections early in life
  • Exposure to cigarette smoke or secondhand smoke
  • Air pollution
  • Being obese

Managing allergies and asthma together

Because these two conditions are so closely related, it's easy to see that if you strive to control your allergies, chances are your asthma will also be in better control. So, the key to asthma management when you also have allergies is to reduce your allergy symptoms to the best of your ability.

How? Well, here are a few suggestions:

Avoid exposure to your known allergens

When you understand the asthma and allergy connection, and know what triggers your allergy and asthma symptoms, your best bet is to avoid coming into contact with those things. It's not always easy and it's not possible to completely avoid our triggers, but any steps you take will improve your allergy and asthma control.

Take your allergy medicine

Because the symptoms of allergies can worsen the symptoms of asthma, it's important to use medication to lessen those symptoms. There are antihistamine pills, nasal sprays, and eye drops available both by prescription and over the counter. Talk with your doctor about the best approach for you. For seasonal allergies, it's always a good idea to start taking your allergy medicine a couple of weeks before allergy season begins, so that you can build up protection.

Follow your asthma action plan

Every person who has asthma should have a written action plan that details your treatment, what symptoms to be on the watch for and actions to take based on your symptoms. This plan will help you avoid getting into an emergency situation. It will also guide you on what asthma medication to take and when to take it.

Stay in touch with your healthcare team

Your healthcare team cannot help you keep your health under control unless you keep them informed on how you are feeling and how the treatment is working. Use these consultants to help you have a better quality of life!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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