Asthma is a highly prevalent condition, with 5.4 million people diagnosed in the UK alone. To outline the severity of this condition, every 10 seconds, someone has a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.
The unpredictable nature of this condition means living with asthma can be a constant daily challenge. This need not be the case. Although there is no cure for asthma, for many, taking regular medication can control the symptoms to help live life relatively inhibited. But if you still get persistent flare-ups, this could indicate your asthma is triggered by allergies and, you may be risking a severe asthma attack. Asthma and allergies often occur together, so knowing your allergies can help you avoid a whole heap of misery.
Allergies and asthma
Asthma is a chronic lung disease that causes the airways to narrow due to tightening of
muscles, inflammation of the lining or build-up of mucus, causing difficulty breathing.
Allergic asthma, sometimes known as allergy-induced asthma, is a type of asthma where your airways narrow when you breathe in an allergen, where the allergen is the particle that you’re allergic to. The allergic response occurs because the immune system mistakenly recognises a harmless substance (the allergen) as a threat, causing your immune system to produce a specific type of protein called immunoglobulin E. However, high amounts of this protein can cause swelling and inflammation in the airways, triggering an asthma attack.
What are some possible allergens?
Some possible allergens include:
- Pollen- Grass and weed are the most common types of pollen to be mindful of.
- Dust mites- These can be found on soft surfaces in your home, such as carpets, clothes etc.
- Mould- Mould produces spores that can get into the air and enter the lungs when breathed.
- Dander- These include skin flakes and hair, commonly from pets.
Asthma, on its own is a very challenging condition to live with, but when symptoms are exacerbated by allergies, it can be especially difficult. Symptoms of asthma include shortness of breath, frequent coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness; these symptoms are intense during an asthma attack. Also, you may experience the specific allergy symptoms, which include: a runny nose, nasal congestion and, itchy eyes.
It’s necessary to manage the symptoms by identifying and limiting your exposure to allergens that trigger your asthma.
Testing for allergies
For people with allergies, it’s common to have multiple allergens; as high as 4 out of 5 people have more than one trigger.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) advise that specific IgE blood tests are helpful to diagnose allergies; the test involves exposure to specific allergens to measure the immune response. To devise a suitable treatment plan, these tests, together with the symptoms you may experience, are interpreted by your doctor. Knowing and avoiding your specific asthma triggers can significantly reduce your chances of asthma attacks.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for asthma, though, symptoms tend to lessen or get better over time. Nonetheless, symptoms can return or worsen with continued exposure to allergens and with no treatment. Hence, it’s vital to consult your GP to devise a treatment plan suited to you.
The best control for allergic asthma is prevention. By preventing allergic reactions, you also limit the possibility of any symptoms or an asthma attack.
To help alleviate symptoms, medication may be necessary; most of these are breathed through an inhaler to ensure it enters your lungs directly. Which of these are given to you depends on your severity.
Is all asthma caused by allergies?
Not all asthma is caused by allergies; there are other potential triggers, such as colds, flu, smoking, exercise, stress, alcohol, hormonal changes, and cold weather.
Who’s at risk?
Most people with asthma tend to have some allergies. Also, a family history of allergies puts you at high risk for allergic asthma.
If your asthma is not controlled, think allergy. Keep a note of all potential triggers you feel may be causing flare-ups, and try to avoid them as much as possible. Speak to your GP about whether adjusting your asthma treatment plan is suitable or ask about an allergy test to help pinpoint the root of your symptoms. Note that your GP may not have access to these tests.