Allergic Asthma: A Common Type of Asthma

Symptoms and Treatment of Allergic Asthma

Allergic asthma is asthma caused by an allergic reaction. Also known as extrinsic asthma, this is the most common form of asthma, affecting about 60% of the 25 million people who suffer from asthma.

With allergic asthma, your immune system overreacts to an allergen, a substance such as pollen that is harmless to the body but mistakenly seen as a threat by your immune system. As the immune system fights the perceived danger, chemicals are released that constrict your airways and cause asthma symptoms. While allergic asthma can sometimes disrupt your everyday life and may cause complications, most people can learn to manage exposure to allergens and treat symptoms effectively.

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Allergic Asthma Symptoms

Asthma causes inflammation of the bronchioles, the small tubes that carry air into the lungs. The inflammation and subsequent narrowing of the bronchioles result in the common symptoms of asthma, which include:

Since allergic asthma is caused by an allergy, you'll also experience typical allergy symptoms associated with allergic rhinitis. These symptoms include nasal congestion, runny nose, post-nasal drip, throat irritation, sneezing, itchiness, and red or watery eyes

Causes

Allergic asthma is not completely understood, but it is generally seen as being caused by a combination of inherited factors and environmental conditions.

If you have a family member diagnosed with allergic asthma, you are more likely to develop the condition yourself. More than 100 genes have been identified as relating to allergic asthma—some of these are associated with the immune system and others are related to lung and airway function.

Having a genetic inclination towards allergic asthma doesn't guarantee that you'll develop the condition. Instead, it's believed that genes plus exposure to irritants, pollutants, or allergens lead to the onset of asthma.

Studies suggest that certain environmental factors seem to initiate a change in gene activity in people who have inherited a predisposition towards allergic asthma.

Triggers

Having allergic asthma does not mean that you continually struggle with breathing. Rather, this type of asthma flares up when you inhale a substance you're allergic to. Common allergens include pollen, dust, animal dander, and mold.

Once the allergen is in your system, it triggers your immune system. Your body then produces antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE), which release chemicals (such as histamine). This initiates a complex reaction, which consists of:

  • Tightening of the muscles around the bronchi and bronchioles
  • Narrowing of the airways (bronchoconstriction)
  • Swelling of the airways
  • Overproduction of mucus

The result is an asthma attack in which you struggle to get enough air into your lungs. Over time, repeated asthmatic attacks can lead to airway remodeling, which is the permanent narrowing of the bronchial tubes.

Diagnosis

To determine whether asthma is related to an allergy, your doctor will first conduct a physical exam that will include discussing conditions that seem to bring on your asthma symptoms. For instance, does coughing, wheezing, and other symptoms seem to occur during pollen season or only when you dust?

Your doctor will then run some specific allergy tests to identify whether you have a sensitivity to an allergen.

Types of Allergy Tests

Skin tests: Common allergens are placed on or just under the top layer of your skin to see if you have a reaction.

Blood tests: Blood samples are tested to see if allergen exposure causes elevated levels of IgE.

Treating Allergic Asthma

Allergic asthma treatment primarily involves three main components:

  1. Avoiding your allergic asthma triggers
  2. Preventing asthma symptoms with maintenance medication
  3. Managing attacks with rescue medication

Avoiding Triggers

By closely monitoring your asthma, you can identify allergens that trigger asthmatic symptoms. The best course you can take is to avoid these triggers whenever possible.

Maintenance Medication

Medications commonly used to manage allergic asthma include both allergy and asthma treatments that prevent symptoms.

Allergy Prevention

For allergies, your doctor may recommend antihistamines. Antihistamines are not considered a direct treatment for asthma. However, they can help you control allergy symptoms, which may reduce asthma flare-ups.

In some instances, you may also be able to undergo "allergy shots" (also known as immunotherapy) to reduce your sensitivity to allergens.

Asthma Prevention

Long-term control medicines that are sometimes taken daily can be used to prevent asthma symptoms. These medications include:

Rescue Medication

Quick-relief medicines are used to treat asthma symptoms that arise despite efforts to prevent attacks. These treatments help to relieve breathing problems when they occur, allowing airways that are constricted to open up so you can breathe fully. They include:

Combination quick-relief medicines may also be available. These include both an anticholinergic and a short-acting beta-agonist with the medication delivered via inhaler or nebulizer.

These medications should not be used regularly. If you find that you need to take rescue medicine more than two times a week, you should discuss it with your doctor.

A Word From Verywell

Allergies and asthma combine to create a challenging situation. Thankfully, there are medications available and lifestyle choices you can make to help you avoid severe asthma symptoms. One of the keys to managing your allergic asthma is being sure that all your doctors are aware of your medications and that you work together to form an asthma action plan that includes insight from an allergist, asthma specialist, and any other doctors you see regularly.

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