Allergies and Asthma

Asthma attacks (worsening of asthma symptoms) can be triggered by allergies, which can temporarily increase the inflammation of the airways in a susceptible person.

What Is an Allergy?

An allergy is the immune system's reaction when exposed to what is otherwise a harmless substance, such as plant pollen, mold, or animal hair, skin or saliva. The immune system acts as a body defense, yet for people with allergies, the immune system treats these substances, called "allergens," as if they are harmful, causing a disruption to normal body functions. Allergens are what trigger a series of reactions by the immune system during an allergic reaction.

What Allergies Cause Asthma?

Inhaled Allergens. The most important allergens for people with allergic asthma appear to be those asthma triggers that are inhaled. Hay fever or seasonal allergic rhinitis occurs when a person comes in contact with an allergen or a substance that he or she is sensitive to. Common inhaled allergens include:

Medical experts recommend that all people with allergies and asthma try to identify possible inhaled allergens that may trigger asthma symptoms.

Food Allergies. Food allergies rarely cause asthma yet they can cause a severe life-threatening reaction. The most common foods associated with allergic symptoms are:

  • Eggs
  • Cow's milk
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts (such as almonds, pecans, walnuts)
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Fish
  • Shrimp and other shellfish

Food preservatives can also trigger asthma. Additives, such as sodium bisulfite, potassium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, potassium metabisulfite, and sodium sulfite, are commonly used in food processing or preparation and may be found in foods such as:

  • Dried fruits or vegetables
  • Potatoes (packaged and some prepared)
  • Wine and beer
  • Bottled lime or lemon juice
  • Shrimp (fresh, frozen, or prepared)
  • Pickled foods

Symptoms of food allergy can include hives, rash, nausea, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, sneezing, and nasal congestion. Some people may experience wheezing or anaphylaxis -- a swelling of the throat that can cut off the airway.

If you suspect that certain foods may be the cause of your asthma, discuss this with your doctor. Allergy skin testing can be done to determine if you are allergic to these foods.

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What Do I Do If I Have Allergies and Asthma?

If you have allergies and asthma, avoid the substance you are allergic to. Here are some tips to help you avoid some of the most common allergens and prevent asthma attack symptoms.

Dust Mites

  • Encase pillows, mattresses, and box springs with allergen-proof, zippered covers.
  • Wash all bedding in hot water once a week.
  • Non-carpeted flooring is best. If you cannot get rid of your carpeting, vacuum often with an HEPA filter. Wear a mask while vacuuming. If your child has asthma, do not vacuum while he or she is in the room. Products that eliminate dust mites from carpeting (such as Acarosan) can be purchased. Your asthma care provider can give you information about these products.
  • Avoid curtains and drapes. Use plain window shades instead of mini-blinds. Washable curtains should be washed in hot water every two to four weeks.
  • Dust all surfaces with a damp cloth often, including lampshades and windowsills.
  • Keep clutter under control. Toys and books should be stored in enclosed bookshelves, drawers or closets.
  • Replace traditional stuffed animals with washable stuffed animals.
  • Keep all clothing in drawers and closets. Keep drawers and closets closed.
  • Cover air ducts with filters. Change these when soiled.
  • Pillows and bedding should not contain feathers.
  • Keep indoor humidity low (below 50%). Use a dehumidifier if needed.
  • Regularly change filters on heaters and air conditioners.

Mold and Mildew

  • Air out damp, humid areas frequently. Run a dehumidifier to keep humidity between 35% and 45%.
  • Use air conditioners when possible.
  • Clean bathrooms regularly using products that kill and prevent mold. Use exhaust fans to vent steam. Do not carpet the bathroom.
  • Keep indoor plants out of bedrooms.
  • When painting, add mold inhibitor to paint to prevent mold from growing.
  • Avoid sources of outdoor molds, such as wet leaves or garden debris.
  • To clean visible mold use a cleaning solution containing bleach ( one ounce per quart of water).

Insects

Many homes and apartments have cockroaches and other insects. Some people with asthma are allergic to a protein in their droppings. To control these allergens in your home:

  • Use roach baits or traps.
  • Insect sprays can be used, but should only be sprayed when no one is at home. Before you or your child returns home after spraying, make sure that your home has been aired out for a couple of hours.
  • Because cockroaches thrive in high humid environment, fix water leaks in and around your home.
  • Cover food in lidded or sealed containers. Clean dishes after eating. Sweep floors after you have eaten.

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Pollen

Pollen is a tiny egg shaped cell from flowering plants. Pollens are difficult to avoid because they cannot be eliminated from the atmosphere. Plants have different periods of pollination, which varies little from year to year. Yet, the type of weather affects the amount of pollen in the air with hot, dry, and windy weather causing more pollen in the air. In general pollen season starts from February to October.

You can lessen your or your child's exposure to pollen by:

  • Limiting your or your child's outdoor activities during times of high pollen, such as early morning.
  • Staying indoors during dry or windy days when pollen counts are high.
  • Keeping windows closed during pollen seasons.
  • Using air conditioning if possible.

Pet Dander

  • It is best not to own any pets if you or your child is highly allergic to pet dander.
  • Long visits to friends and family who own pets should be avoided. If you do visit, make sure you or your child takes asthma or allergy medicines before the visit. Exposure to the pets should be kept to a minimum when visiting.
  • If you must have a cat or dog in the home, restrict its living area. It should not be allowed in your or your child's bedroom at any time. If possible, keep the pet outside.
  • Wash your pet weekly.
  • Remove as much carpeting as possible. Animal dander deposits in the carpet and stays there, even after the pet is gone from the home.

Food Allergies

If you have allergies, avoiding food triggers can be challenging. It is important to always read food labels and, when dining out, ask how foods are prepared.

Consider Allergy Shots

You can train your immune system to not overreact to allergy triggers. Doctors do this by giving you allergy shots (immunotherapy) for asthma. An allergy shot is a small amount of the substance that causes your allergy. By giving repeated shots of the substance over a period of time, your immune system eventually stops causing the allergic reaction. Ask your doctor if you are a candidate for allergy shots for preventing asthma.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on October 10, 2016

Sources

SOURCES: 

American Lung Association: "Facts About Asthma." 

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI): "Tips to Remember: Asthma and allergy medications." 

AAAAI: "Allergic conditions: Asthma."

FDA: "Food Allergies: What You Need to Know."

American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: "House Dust Allergy."

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: "Pollen and Mold Counts."

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