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  • Asthma and Allergies - Are They Connected?
    Some people have get hayfever symptoms in the Fall, some are allergic to cats, some are miserable in a dusty house. Others have no hayfever symptoms but their asthma gets worst in the Spring or in a moldy basement. Some people note that what triggers hayfever symptoms also worsens their asthma. Is there a connection?

    In fact, about 85 percent of patients with asthma have allergies. These allergies are no different from those of people who have hayfever but no asthma. The allergic response happens to be in the airways - the tubes that connect the windpipe to the deeper part of the lungs which exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen. In the airways, this allergic response causes inflammation and swelling - which in turn narrow the airways and make it harder to breathe, especially breathing out. Trying to breathe through narrowed airways can be difficult, and causes the wheeze that is typical of every patient who has asthma.
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    Why some patients who are ‘allergic’ only have sneezing and nasal congestion, some only asthma and some both is an area of active research. The answers are a ways off, but we know that the majority of people with asthma are ‘allergic’. In fact, many of the treatments that work for people with hayfever are effective in patients with asthma - inhaled steroids are a good example. What this means for patients with asthma is that with the help of your doctor it is worth thinking carefully about what triggers your asthma, and maybe even finding out for sure with specific tests.

    Once we know what allergens may trigger our asthma, we can better avoid these triggers and improve control of our asthma.

    Can My Asthma Be Cured?

    Many patients with asthma ask if their asthma will be with them for life, and are especially concerned about the long-term need for and effects of taking asthma medicines. And some medicines have immediate side effects that can be uncomfortable.

    Many children ‘grow out’ of their asthma - they remember having it as a child but not needing medicine and having few symptoms after finishing elementary school. They may also have had hayfever symptoms that also improved when they got older. This is not uncommon and is most likely due to the fact that they lost their sensitivity (or allergy, see above) to environmental triggers. How this happens exactly is not known, but is quite common.

    Other patients continue to have asthma into adulthood, and some even developed asthma symptoms as an adult. Unfortunately, only a minority of us will ‘outgrow’ or lose our sensitivity to the things in the environment that trigger our asthma. That said, there are two ways that we can directly control our asthma symptoms. By knowing what triggers our asthma, we can avoid or minimize exposures to these triggers, whether they are allergens in the environment (dust, certain pets) or situational triggers (exercise, cold air). Secondly, for those that need daily asthma controller medicines, taking these medicines every day as prescribed can go a long way towards controlling asthma symptoms the best we can.

  • So, while asthma can not be ‘cured’ for many asthma patients, there is a lot that can be done to control asthma symptoms that would otherwise be disabling without treatment. While ‘cure’ may not be in the cards, good control is always a reasonable goal.
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    Next Month:

    Why does my asthma get worse when I get a cold?

    Why do need to take my medicines every day even if my asthma is well controlled?

    Reader questions.
Published On: May 26, 2006