There's a reason why you almost always hear asthma and allergies mentioned together in the same breath. It's because allergies are the underlying basis for the majority of cases of asthma, especially in children. But adult asthma is also frequently related to allergies.
Experts talk about the "Atopy Triad". Atopy is a fancy medical term meaning, basically, a state of hypersensitivity (or allergy) to environmental allergens. The triad refers to 3 allergic diseases that often go hand in hand: nasal allergies, asthma and eczema. If you have one of these conditions, you're often likely to have at least one of the others as well.
Eczema is a skin rash, also known as atopic dermatitis, that is triggered by coming into contact with allergens in the environment. Common symptoms include dry, itchy, scaly skin, cracks behind the ears, and rashes on the cheeks, arms, and legs. The lesions may come and go, but when scratched can become crusted, weepy and infected. Children with allergies and asthma often have eczema, but may outgrow it as they get older. Eczema usually begins before age 30.
Nasal allergies and asthma are even more closely related, as both affect the airways. Nasal allergies tend to affect the nasal passages (most upper part of the airways), while asthma affects the bronchial tubes as they branch out into smaller and smaller airways, including the tiniest alveoli. Both conditions involve an overactive immune system that causes inflammation of the airways.
Symptoms of nasal allergies include:
- Runny nose
- Stuffy nose
Symptoms of asthma include:
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
Either of these sets of symptoms alone can be unpleasant to live with; coping with both at once can be debilitating. And the bad news is, that nasal allergies symptoms can actually make asthma symptoms worse than they normally are. So, learning how to control both conditions is essential in maintaining your best health.
The First Step
Your first line of defense in controlling allergies and asthma is to avoid coming into contact with your triggers, the things that set off your symptoms. It's not always easy to do that, but your efforts will be well worth it. The good news is, the same things tend to trigger both allergies and asthma, so if you can figure out what is setting off either kind of symptoms, then avoiding it will help in both areas too.
Common triggers include outdoor triggers like:
- Mold spores
- Tree, grass and weed pollen
And indoor triggers like:
- Mold spores
- Dust mites
- Pet dander & urine
- Insect allergens, such as cockroach dander
In addition, there are other things called irritants that can also set off or worsen allergy and asthma symptoms. Irritants don't initiate the allergic response, but they do make already inflamed airways worse. Common irritants include:
- Smoke, both tobacco and wood
- Strong fumes or odors
- Cold air
- Weather extremes
- Air pollution/car exhaust
Second Step to Control
After you've figured out what your triggers are and the best ways to avoid contact with them, you should start to feel better. But most people will still need to treat the allergies and asthma. Luckily, there are many effective medicine choices available these days. The goal is to prevent the inflammation that causes your symptoms, both in relation to allergies and asthma.
Allergy medications you can take include:
- Oral or nasal antihistamines
- Nasal steroid sprays
- Leukotriene modifiers
Some of the above types of medicines are available over-the-counter, while others must be prescribed by your doctor.
The most effective asthma medicines are taken via an inhaler device, so that you breathe in a fine mist or powder right into your lungs. These medicines are called inhaled steroids and must be prescribed by a doctor. You usually take 1 to 2 puffs once or twice daily.
When inhaled steroids aren't effective, your doctor may consider prescribing one of the following types of medicines to work with the steroid:
- Leukotriene modifiers
- Long-acting bronchodilators
When even that doesn't work well to control severe asthma, your doctor may suggest an asthma medicine called an immunomodulator that is taken via a shot. Xolair is an example of this type of medicine.
According to research, one of the biggest reasons why people with asthma and/or allergies have problems is because they fail to take their medicine as prescribed. Sometimes people skimp on taking it because it costs so much. Other times, they wait until they begin to notice symptoms before taking the medicine, but that can be too late. Allergy and asthma medicine only works when you take it.
And if you have both allergies and asthma, then you want to be sure you're not only taking your asthma medicine every day. You also want to take your allergy medicine to keep allergies under control so that they don't affect your asthma.
So, if you have the allergic type of asthma (like most of us), then do yourself a favor. Avoid your triggers like crazy and take your medicine!
Published On: November 23, 2008