The same substances that trigger your hay fever symptoms may also cause asthma symptoms, such as shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness, according to James T. C. Li, M.D., Ph.D., Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota. Substances such as pollen, dust mites, and pet dander, are common triggers. Skin or food allergies can also cause symptoms.
You may ask how does an allergic reaction cause asthma symptoms? An allergic response occurs when immune system proteins (antibodies) mistakenly identify a harmless substance, such as pollen, as an invader, Dr. Li said. To protect your body from this substance, antibodies bond to the allergen. Chemicals released by the immune system cause allergy symptoms, such as nasal congestion, runny nose, itchy eyes, or skin reactions. This same action affects the lungs and airways and leads to asthma symptoms.
You may also ask are allergies and asthma treated differently? While most treatments are designed to treat either condition, some treatments help both conditions, Dr. Li continued. Here are a few:
1. Leukotriene modifiers. This pill helps to control immune system chemicals released during an allergic reaction. You should seek medical attention if you experience any unusual psychological reactions from these medications.
2. Allergy shots (immunotherapy). This involves getting regular injections of the allergens that trigger your symptoms.
Your immune system builds up a tolerance to these allergens, and your allergic reactions diminish. Asthma symptoms may decrease as well.
3. Anti-immunoglobulin E (IgE) therapy. When you have an allergy, your immune system releases antibodies, known as IgE. against the harmful allergen.
When you encounter that allergen, the IgE antibodies recognize it, and signal your immune system to release histamine, and other chemicals, into your bloodstream.
The drug Xolair interferes with IgE in the body, and helps prevent the allergic reaction that triggers asthma symptoms.
4. Other medications may be needed to treat allergies and asthma. However, it is important to recognize and avoid allergic substances that trigger your symptoms.
Another two questions often asked are, who is at risk for allergic symptoms and is all asthma caused by allergies? A family history of allergic asthma is an obvious risk factor. Having hay fever or other allergies also increases your risk. While allergic asthma is rather common, there are other types of asthma with different triggers, such as exercise, infections, cold air, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and stress. You may have more than one kind of asthma trigger.
It is important to know the substances that trigger your allergy and asthma symptoms, and learn how to limit your exposure to them, Dr. LI advised. Work with your doctor to find the best treatment to manage your symptoms. Since these symptoms may change over time, be prepared to adjust your treatment accordingly.
It is important to note there are forms of alternative medicine that show promise. Vitamin C. At the University of Helsinki in Finland, Harri Hemila, M.D., et al., reviewed 3 studies, which involved 79 volunteers, and the role of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in treating asthma. In one study from Nigeria on asthmatics whose asthma attacks were precipitated by a respiratory infection, 1 g/day of vitamin C decreased the occurrence of asthma attacks by 79%.
In a crossover study from the former East Germany on patients who had infection-related asthma, it was found that 5 g/day of the vitamin decreased the proportion of those who had bronchial hypersensitivity by 52 percentage points. The third study was not double-blind.
In a study at Indiana University in Bloomington, Timothy D. Mickleborough, M.D., et al., reported that elite athletes with Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction (EIB) may respond to dietary modification, thereby reducing the need for pharmacologic treatment. EIB, during or after exercise, produces asthma-like symptoms, such as wheezing, chest tightness, cough, etc. Their study suggested that dietary fish oil supplementation has a markedly protective effect in suppressing EIB, and this may be attributed to its antiinflammatory properties.
Li, James T. C., M.D., Ph.D. “Allergies and Asthma: They Often Occur Together,” Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, Feb. 27, 2013.
Hemila, Harri, M.D., et al. “Vitamin C and Common Cold-Induced Asthma: Systematic Review in Statistical Analysis,” Allergy, Asthma, and Clinical Immunology 9:46, 2013.
Mickleborough, Timothy D., M.D., et al. “Fish Oil Supplementation Reduces Severity of Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction in Elite Athletes,” American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine 168 (10):1161-1169, 2003.