Can Asthma and Allergies Make You More Likely to Get Sick?

by Jennifer Mitchell Wilson B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

In the 11 years that our family has been dealing with allergies and asthma, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon. It seems that our allergic kids are sick way more frequently than our child who does not have allergies or asthma. From our experience, there very well may be a link between the two issues. What I'm especially interested in, however, is whether this happens to others, and what the cause(s) might be.

Similar symptoms

If you suffer from severe allergies then you already know that they can make you feel very sick. Distinguishing between allergies and issues arising from asthma versus an actual infection can sometimes be difficult. Both may cause additional sneezing, coughing, wheezing and a general feeling of being unwell. However, if you also have fever, asthma that isn’t responding to your current treatment, or you are coughing up (or blowing out) mucous that is not clear, it’s time to see your physician. She can determine for sure if your issues have progressed to an infection.

Allergies, allergic asthma and the immune system

According to researchers at John Hopkins, allergies and allergic asthma (asthma triggered by an allergic reaction) start within the immune system. The purpose of the immune system is primarily to protect the body against foreign invaders like viruses, bacteria and other microorganisms. In people with allergies or allergic asthma the body reacts to common things in the environment like pollen, mold or dust as if they were foreign invaders. The immune response to these allergens can be mild like a runny nose or as severe as anaphylaxis.

Why can allergic issues make you sick more frequently?

As we have discussed, allergic reactions have your immune system on overdrive as they overreact to things in the environment that would be harmless to most people. Neil Kao, a fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, also explains that a person’s immune system may place a priority on fighting off the allergens, which can make a patient prone to invasions from illness-causing bacteria or viruses. In some people, out of control allergies can also lead to conditions that are perfect breeding grounds for a sinus infection, ear infection and upper respiratory infection.

Medications that compromise the immune system

Many patients with severe allergies or allergic asthma may be on medications that can compromise the immune system. Biologics and corticosteroids can work well for numerous people with allergic conditions, but they work by lowering the inflammatory response. This can also have the side effect of compromising the immune system. If you are frequently sick or have concerns about side effects of your medications, please talk with your physician. Do not discontinue any medication without your doctor’s approval.

How to stay well and naturally boost the immune system

Prevention is key. One of the best things you can do to prevent illness is washing your hands. When you come home from running errands; after you touch raw meat, empty trash or play with pets; and always before you eat, you should be washing your hands. Lather up, sing "Happy Birthday" twice, and rinse.

Sanitizing commonly touched items in the house can also cut down on the germ count. Door knobs, cell phones, light switches and remotes can all be wiped down to prevent spreading germs.

Stay away from friends or family who have been sick. Most people will be contagious for up to 24 hours after they have run a fever.

Vaccinations for both flu and pneumonia can help some patients prevent these common winter illnesses. Check with your doctor to see if vaccinations might be a good idea for you, as well.

Boost your own immune system. Exercise as much as your body can tolerate, and/or as much as advised by your physician.

Eat healthy foods that contain plenty of fresh, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, lean proteins and whole grains.

Stay hydrated. That means about 13 cups (3 liters) of total fluids for men and 9 cups (2.2 liters) for women per day.

Jennifer has a bachelor's degree in dietetics as well as graduate work in public health and nutrition. She has worked with families dealing with digestive disease, asthma and food allergies for the past 12 years. Jennifer also serves the Board of Directors for Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association (PAGER).

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson
Meet Our Writer
Jennifer Mitchell Wilson

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson is a dietitian and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.