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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:

  • Animal dander (skin, saliva)
  • Dust mites
  • Cockroach particles
  • Mold
  • Pollen

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 can 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.

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 55%). Use a dehumidifier if needed.
  • Regularly change filters on heaters and air conditioners.

WebMD Medical Reference

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