A graphic of red blood cells floating in a human's body.
While not set in stone, some studies show a distinct connection between asthma and anemia.

What Is the Connection Between Asthma and Anemia?

Asthma and anemia are two different medical conditions. Both diseases can occur in children and adults. Additionally, both conditions may be chronic and require proper management to prevent complications. But is there a link between the two conditions, and if you have both, what should you know? Continue reading to find out.

What Is Asthma?

Asthma is a lung disease that causes hypersensitivity of the airways. It is one of the most common lung diseases in the world. As reported by the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, in the U.S., approximately 26 million adults and children have asthma.

The cause of asthma is unknown, although there is a link to allergies, and people who have a parent with asthma are also at an increased risk for developing the disease.

People with asthma may have triggers that lead to a flare-up of symptoms. Triggers vary but may include allergens, exercise and cold weather. Something triggers a reaction in the airways and inflammation develops along with constriction.

Common Asthma Symptoms

Asthma affects both adults and children and is a long-term condition. The severity can vary from mild to persistent and severe.

Symptoms of asthma include:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness

What Is Anemia?

Anemia is a condition that involves a lack of red blood cells in the body. Red blood cells carry oxygen to various tissues. There are different types of anemia, depending on the cause. Anemia can occur acutely and last for a short time, or it could become chronic. Anemia affects both children and adults. One of the most common causes is iron deficiency anemia.

Anemia Symptoms

Without enough iron in the body, it cannot make enough hemoglobin, which is the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen. Iron deficiency develops due to excess bleeding or from a lack of iron in the diet, and can show different symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Yellow skin
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Lightheadedness
  • Headaches
  • Cold feet and hands
  • Chest pain
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How Can Anemia Affect a Person With Asthma?

When someone has anemia, they do not have enough oxygen-carrying red blood cells. It is very common for someone with anemia to be short of breath.

Shortness of Breath

Asthma flare-ups can also cause shortness of breath for a different reason. When an asthma attack occurs, it leads to swelling and narrowing of the airways, which makes it hard to get air in.

Unable to Intake Proper Oxygen

A person with both asthma and anemia can have trouble getting air in, and when they do, there are not enough cells to carry oxygen throughout the body. This combination makes breathing even more problematic.

Susceptible to Infection

Anemia due to low iron levels may also affect a person with asthma in another way. Anemia is linked to an increase of infections in children. Low iron levels adversely affect the immune system, which makes someone susceptible to infections. Increased respiratory infections are often a trigger leading to a flare-up of asthma symptoms.

Does Anemia Make Asthma Worse?

Although anemia itself may not be a risk factor for developing asthma, there is some research that indicates it may make it worse in some people. One study in the journal Clinical Investigation involved 200 children between the ages of 6 and 14 with asthma. The participants were divided into groups, including a group that had anemia and asthma and a group of children with asthma only.

The researchers compared pulmonary function test results from both groups. Results indicated that children with both asthma and anemia had lower pulmonary function scores than children who had asthma alone.

Researchers concluded that anemia due to iron deficiency was considered an indirect risk factor for asthma flare-ups in children. Anemia may also have a negative effect on pulmonary function tests.

In another study published in the journal PLOS One, researchers found that reduced levels of iron in women with asthma was associated with lower lung function.

There appears to be a connection between asthma and anemia. But most researchers also agree that more studies need to be performed to determine a definite link between anemia and the severity of asthma.

Treating Asthma and Anemia

If you have anemia and asthma, it is essential to manage both conditions. Treatment for asthma depends on the severity of symptoms. Anemia treatment also varies depending on the cause.

Iron deficiency anemia treatment includes taking iron supplements and possibly making dietary changes. Adding foods that are high in iron may be recommended:

  • Red meat
  • Iron-fortified breakfast cereal
  • Leafy green vegetables, including spinach and kale
  • Beans
  • Nuts

In some instances, iron-deficiency anemia may develop due to excess bleeding, such as heavy menstrual bleeding. If this is the case, talk with your doctor about treatment options.

Asthma treatment often includes reducing exposure to substances or triggers that leads to asthma symptoms. Additional treatment may include bronchodilators to open the airways and decrease sudden symptoms.

Steroid inhalers to reduce airway swelling may also be prescribed. If asthma is associated with allergies, treatment may also include antihistamines to decrease symptoms.

Talk to Your Doctor

Although having anemia can make it more difficult to deal with asthma symptoms, especially shortness of breath, working closely with your doctor can help you treat both conditions successfully.