Allergies and asthma may often present with similar symptoms, but do you know the difference between them? Asthma is a respiratory disease characterized by the tightening of the airways which can lead to inflammation, whereas people with allergic diseases have an overactive immune system that is irritated by harmless common substances such as dust mites, pollen, etc1
. However, in some cases, these allergens can trigger asthmatic attacks. This kind of asthma is called allergic asthma, which is the most prevalent form of asthma among children and adults2
Our immune system is always on alert. When it recognizes bacteria and viruses, it works extra hard to flush them out. However, sometimes it can attack harmless substances such as pollen, dust mites, cockroaches, animal dander, and mold, causing an allergic reaction. This causes symptoms such as runny nose, itchy eyes and throat, and sneezing as the body tries to eject the foreign substance3
. In the case of allergic asthma, the airways are sensitive to certain allergens, which causes the immune system to overreact. The airways become flooded with thick mucus which causes symptoms similar to that of an allergic reaction.
If allergic reactions or asthma attacks are ignored, they can be life-threatening and may lead to damage to vital organs. Therefore, it is essential to take action to avoid allergens. Medication is often required to bring asthma attacks under control. These mainly include inhaled steroids which fight inflammation, and bronchodilators, which open up your airways. If traditional treatments don’t help, many injectable medications are also available.
If you have any symptoms of allergy or allergic asthma, it is imperative to schedule a visit with the doctor. Your healthcare provider may suggest several tests to diagnose allergic asthma. To detect specific allergies, a blood test or a skin prick test can be conducted. These tests usually determine the effect of allergens on your body. For the skin prick test, possible allergens may be applied to small areas of your skin. Some more tests are required to diagnose asthma. These include spirometry, exhaled nitric oxide test (FeNO test), and bronchoprovocation test4
Other than the commonly known triggers, certain foods such as milk, shellfish, eggs, peanuts, and gluten can also cause an asthmatic reaction. Moreover, beer and wine can also act as asthmatic triggers. Sometimes, irritants such as air pollution, aerosol, tobacco smoke, wood fires, and strong odours may not cause allergic reactions but may inflame your airways and make asthma symptoms worse. You may also notice that your allergy symptoms get worse during certain seasons.
Although allergic asthmatic attacks aren’t preventable, knowing and avoiding your triggers is a crucial aspect of their management. With advances in treatment, doctors are now suggesting immunotherapy along with medications to increase a patient’s tolerance to allergens. Hence, don’t ignore the symptoms of allergy and reach out to your doctor as soon as you can. Your healthcare provider can design an asthma action plan and teach you how to manage the disease.
As the majority of the burden of asthma morbidity and mortality occurs in low- and middle-income countries, it is essential to ensure equitable access to asthma care5
. Therefore, this World Asthma Day, let us pledge to promote the development and implementation of effective asthma management programmes.