Added Extras: Common Co-Occurring Conditions with Asthma
Did you know that if you have asthma, there are a lot of other conditions that you’re more likely to experience? These are called asthma comorbidities. Some of them are easier to guess than others, such as allergies, and maybe eczema. Others, like GERD, or gastro-esophogeal reflux disease, often simply known as acid reflux, might not be as obvious. However, it can have a serious impact on asthma and asthma control.
The most common asthma comorbidities: environmental allergies
Dust, pollen, cats and dogs, and so on… these are just a few of the environmental allergies that may affect you. These allergies may cause the “classic” allergy symptoms either in certain seasons, like spring or fall, or year-round (like dust), including watery, itchy eyes, runny or congested nose, sneezing, skin itchiness, and so on.
Somewhere around 90% of people with asthma also have allergies. Environmental allergies can also cause allergic rhinitis (nasal symptoms of allergic reactions, which affects 10 to 30% of people worldwide,1 or eczema (skin reactions).
Asthma and food allergies often co-occur. Severe allergic reactions caused by food, medications, latex, insect stings, etc. are known as anaphylaxis. Anaphylactic reactions may be more severe or fatal in people who also have asthma.2
Eczema, or dermatitis, is a skin reaction that causes red, itchy rash patches to develop on the skin. Sometimes, these areas will also seep fluid, blister, or bleed. While some types of eczema will only occur at certain times of the year, or affect only small areas of the body, other types may cover nearly the whole body.3 Just like asthma, eczema can vary in its severity. People often experience a “triad” of conditions including asthma, allergies, and eczema.
In some of my posts on exercise and asthma, I identified why weight control is an important step in managing asthma. Simply, when extra weight is carried on the abdomen especially, it makes it harder for the diaphragm to move (expand) and makes it more effort to breathe. Being overweight or obese also makes it more likely a person will experience GERD (in the next paragraph) or sleep apnea — both of which have an impact on asthma.
GERD (Gastro-esophageal reflux disease)
While in the long form gastro-esophogeal reflux disease sounds complicated, it means roughly the same as “acid reflux”, which is experienced when the contents of your stomach re-enter the esophagus — when these symptoms occur more than twice a week, and/or there is visible damage to your esophagus, this is known as GERD.4
Sometimes, the contents that travel back up the esophagus can “splash” (for lack of a better term!) over into the trachea (windpipe) and enter the lungs. Well, it makes sense that this could make your asthma worse, doesn’t it? Often, but not always, GERD may be linked to obesity — so, either way, it is important to control GERD to control asthma, but also be aware of the impact of obesity on both conditions.
Obstructive sleep apnea
In obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a blockage or "obstruction" develops somewhere in your airway — including the nose or throat — and causes breathing to stop during sleep. Mayo Clinic notes that “fat deposits” in the upper throat can cause OSA.5 One of the most common symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea is significant snoring. Among other risk factors of OSA is nasal congestion — and, as we’ve covered, it is not uncommon for asthma and allergic rhinitis to go hand-in-hand.
Asthma isn’t in your head — we know that. But, people with asthma may be 1.5 to 2 times more likely to have anxiety or an anxiety disorder, symptoms of depression, or substance abuse concerns,than those without asthma.6 Anxiety or panic symptoms specifically may make asthma worse in certain populations, and difficulty breathing — hey, asthma! — certainly can be panic-inducing to deal with if necessary coping skills aren’t developed.7
Read more about mental health and asthma in my post on Mindfulness and Asthma.
Simply keeping an eye out for other conditions you may have alongside asthma may provide a better picture of what may make it difficult to control your asthma. Dealing with other conditions on top of asthma can certainly be more effort, and of course, more challenging. However, the big picture is important to be mindful of if you are working hard to improve your health, to ensure that you can achieve the best results possible for you.
Do you have any asthma comorbidities? How does it affect your life? Let me know in the comments below!
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