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Asthma Health Center

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Allergic Asthma

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The same allergens that give some people sneezing fits and watery eyes can cause an asthma attack in others. 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. The symptoms that go along with allergic asthma show up after you breathe things called allergens (or allergy triggers) like pollen, dust mites, or mold. If you have asthma (allergic or non-allergic), it gets worse after you exercise in cold air or after breathing smoke, dust, or fumes. Sometimes even a strong smell can set it off.

Because allergens are everywhere, it's important that people with allergic asthma know their triggers and learn how to prevent an attack.

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What Is an Allergy?

Your immune system’s job is to protect you from bacteria and viruses. If you have allergies, though, part of your immune system works too hard. It may attack harmless substances -- like cat dander or pollen -- in your nose, lungs, eyes, and under your skin.

When your body meets an allergen, it makes chemicals called IgE antibodies. They cause the release of chemicals like histamine, which cause swelling and inflammation. This creates familiar symptoms like a runny nose, itchy eyes, and sneezing as your body tries to remove the allergen.

What Is Allergic Asthma?

If you have allergic asthma, your airways are extra sensitive to certain allergens. Once they get into your body, your immune system overreacts. The muscles around your airways tighten. The airways become inflamed and over time are flooded with thick mucus.

Whether you have allergic asthma or non-allergic asthma, the symptoms are generally the same. You’re likely to:

  • Cough
  • Wheeze
  • Be short of breath
  • Breathe quickly
  • Feel your chest get tight

Common Causes for Allergic Asthma

Allergens, small enough to be breathed deep into the lungs, include:

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

Keep in mind that allergens aren’t the only thing that can make your allergic asthma worse. Irritants may still trigger an asthma attack, even though they don't cause an allergic reaction. These include:

  • Smoke from tobacco, a fireplace, candles, incense, or fireworks
  • Air pollution
  • Cold air
  • Exercise in cold air
  • Strong chemical odors or fumes
  • Perfumes, air fresheners, or other scented products
  • Dusty rooms

Your doctor can test you to see what causes your allergic asthma. The two most common (and recommended) methods 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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