How Do Allergies and Asthma Interact?

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The Link Between Allergies and Asthma

As both an allergy and asthma sufferer whose symptoms worsened at certain times of the year, it did not come as a shock to me when my physician told me that my symptoms were related. He told me improving my allergy symptoms would likely improve my asthma symptoms.

My biggest questions — how were they related? And how could I control my symptoms simultaneously? Could your allergies be asthma triggers?

The Link

According to James T. Li, MD, PhD at Mayo Clinic, allergies occur due to an immune response. The body perceives a harmless substance, such as pollen, as something an invader.

“In an attempt to protect your body from the substance, antibodies bind to the antigen,” he says. This chemical response causes the classic allergic symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes and congestion.

When people have an intensified allergic reaction, it may cause symptoms in the respiratory tract. This may then cause asthma symptoms. Asthma caused by allergies is often called “allergy-induced asthma.”

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Medical Treatment

Often, controlling asthma symptoms associated with allergies will be preventing the allergic response from occurring. However, there are a few different options that can simultaneously treat both allergies and asthma at the same time.

An oral medication that helps control immune system chemicals during an allergic reaction is helpful; this is called a leukotriene modifier.

One example of a leukotriene modifier is montelukast (Singulair). It is typically effective but has, on rare occasions, been linked to suicidal ideations, so you should be counseled on this unusual side effect if prescribed this medication.

Another option is immunotherapy (allergy shots). The idea behind allergy shots is that the person is tested to find out what they are allergic to, then are given small doses of those allergens.

The dose is increased in a stepwise fashion, reducing the immune response slowly. As allergy symptoms diminish, so do asthma symptoms. The downside to this treatment is it is time-consuming — it can take three to five years.

A newer treatment is anti-immunoglobulin E (IgE) therapy. IgE antibodies are produced in response to the substance that the body mistakes as an invader. Next time the body “meets” that allergen, IgE antibodies signal the body to produce histamine.

The medication omalizumab (Xolair) blocks the IgE in the body, thus preventing the allergic response, which also triggers asthma symptoms.

Lifestyle Modifications

For people who do not desire to take medications or allergy shots, or cannot for other reasons, there are ways to potentially manage allergies and asthma without the use of medication. These tips can and should also be used in conjunction with medical treatment, although your treatment plan should be individualized with your doctor.

Here are some great tips for treating allergies and asthma:

  • Get an allergy test. There are a variety of ways that an allergy test can be done, from a skin prick test, to a scratch test, to a blood test. However, knowledge is power — knowing exactly what you are working with will help you to manage your allergies.
  • Once you know what you are allergic to, avoid your allergens if possible. For example, if you find you are allergic to dust, avoid dusty areas and keep your home as dust-free as possible.
  • Use a saline rinse daily, and more often during times when your allergies are flaring up. During high allergy times, such as during times with high pollen counts, using a neti pot after returning home will clear the nasal passages from pollen, reducing the allergen in your system.
  • During high pollen counts, if you are allergic to tree pollens, change your clothing immediately after returning home. If possible, shower. Pollen is sticky and can get stuck to your hair and skin.

The Bottom Line…

At present, there is no cure for asthma and allergies. Treating them is a multifaceted approach and typically, people use a combination of medical and lifestyle treatments to control them. Work with your physician to create the best treatment plan for you.

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