Allergies occur when your immune system reacts to exposure to a foreign substance. For example, in people without allergies, exposure to dust, pollen, or animal hair might have no effect. In people with allergies, these same substances are seen as an invading enemy force to be destroyed at all costs.
In response to the dangerous invader, the immune system releases chemicals called histamines. These chemicals cause the typical itching, sneezing and watery eyes that most people suffer with an allergy attack. If you have asthma, histamine can also trigger an asthma attack.
Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that can occur at any age. Many people develop asthma during childhood, but it is also possible to develop it later in life. Late-onset asthma could be due to environmental factors, like pollution; hormonal changes with puberty, or lifestyle factors, like smoking.
Asthma causes the airways in the lungs to swell and produce more mucus. The typical symptoms of an asthma attack include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing. If the attack is severe, the person’s lips could turn blue, and he could stop breathing entirely – a condition called anaphylaxis.
Allergies and asthma often go hand-in-hand and 70 percent of adolescents with asthma also have allergies and in many cases, the allergen is the trigger for the asthma attack.
In addition to the itching and sneezing, histamines also cause inflammation. In nasal passages this causes congestion but, in the lungs, it can cause the inflammation associated with the asthma attack. Additionally, the mucous membranes in the lungs are similar to the mucous membranes in the sinuses. During an allergy attack the mucous membranes can thicken and produce more mucus. In people with asthma, this will also occur in the lungs as well as the sinuses.
Treatment and Prevention
Staying away from possible triggers can go a long way toward preventing asthma and allergy attacks. If you are allergic to dust, clean and vacuum often, and wear a mask. If you are allergic to animal dander, consider living in an environment without pets.
As far as medications are concerned, it’s best to treat each condition separately. Allergy medicines might help relieve some asthma symptoms, but not all. Conversely, asthma medications are formulated to only work on the bronchial passages.
For the allergy, consider taking a daily over-the-counter antihistamine, like Claritin. These drugs will prevent an allergic reaction from starting. Another option is regular allergy shots, prescribed by a doctor. Shots work well for people with severe allergies that do not respond well to drugs like Claritin. They are also good for people with multiple allergies who have little control over their environment.
There are two courses of treatment for asthma, maintenance drugs and rescue drugs. The maintenance drugs, like Spiriva, keep the airways from swelling in the first place. You can only buy Spiriva, and other asthma medications, with a prescription from your doctor. Rescue drugs, like Tudorza, treat the airways after the asthma attack has started. The goal in treating asthma is to prevent the attacks with the maintenance drugs, so there is less need for the rescue drugs.
If you suspect that you have allergies or asthma, consult with your physician to develop a treatment plan.
This web page is for information and support only and NOT a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment! Nothing on this web page should be construed as medical advice. Please check with your own physician about any information that concerns you.