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Allergic Asthma

Allergic asthma is the most common type of asthma. About 90% of kids with childhood asthma have allergies, compared with about 50% of adults with asthma. Inhaling specific substances called allergens (allergy triggers such as pollen, mites, or molds) brings on the asthma symptoms associated with allergic asthma. Nearly everyone with asthma (allergic or nonallergic) gets worse after exercising in cold air or after inhaling any type of smoke, dust, fumes, and sometimes strong smells.

Because allergens are everywhere, it's important that people with allergic asthma understand their allergy and asthma triggers and learn the facts about preventing asthma symptoms.

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What Is an Allergy?

A major task of your immune system is to protect you from bacteria and viruses. However, in people with allergies, part of the immune system is too vigilant. It may treat harmless substances -- like cat dander or pollen -- as if they were enemy invaders and attack them (in your nose, lungs, eyes, and under your skin). 

When your body encounters an allergen, it stimulates IgE antibodies. These antibodies trigger an allergic reaction. They cause the release of chemicals like histamine, which result in swelling and inflammation. This creates familiar allergy symptoms like a runny nose, itchy eyes, and sneezing because your body is trying to remove the allergens.

What Is Allergic Asthma?

If you have allergic asthma, your airways are hypersensitive to certain allergens. Once these allergens get into your airways, your immune system overreacts. The muscles around your airways tighten (an effect called bronchospasm). The airways themselves become inflamed and over time are flooded with thick mucus.

Whether you have allergic asthma or nonallergic asthma, the symptoms of asthma are generally the same and may include any or all of the following:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid breathing
  • Tightening of the chest

Common Allergens for Allergic Asthma

Allergens, which are small enough to be inhaled deep into the lungs, include:

  • Windblown pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds
  • Mold spores and mold fragments
  • Animal dander (from hair, skin, or feathers) and saliva
  • Dust mite feces
  • Cockroach feces

Keep in mind that allergens are not the only thing that can worsen your allergic asthma. Irritants may still trigger an asthma attack, even though they don't cause an allergic reaction. These irritants include:

  • Tobacco smoke
  • Smoke from a fireplace, candles, incense, or fireworks
  • Air pollution
  • Cold air, especially vigorous exercise in cold air
  • Strong chemical odors or fumes
  • Perfumes, air fresheners, or other scented products
  • Dusty workplaces

Your health care provider can perform allergy and asthma tests to determine exactly which indoor and outdoor allergens cause your allergic asthma. The two most common (and recommended) tests are:

  • Pricking your skin with a tiny amount of the allergen and measuring the size of the red bumps 20 minutes later 
  • A blood test known as a specific IgE or sIgE test


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