Nasal allergies affect nearly 50 million Americans each year, and asthma affects almost 24 million Americans each year, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
For some people, allergies and asthma may occur together, which is known as allergic asthma, or allergy-induced asthma.
An allergic reaction occurs when antibodies in the immune system mistakenly identify a harmless substance, such as tree pollen, dust mites or pet dander, as an invader. To protect the body, antibodies bind to the allergen. The chemicals released by the immune system to fight the allergen lead to allergy symptoms, such as congestion, runny nose and itchy eyes.
A variety of treatments can help people with persistent nasal allergies find some relief. Eye drops, saline sprays and oral antihistamines are available over the counter and can treat mild symptoms. A steroid nasal spray may also be recommended for moderate allergies.
Immunotherapy, commonly called “allergy shots,” can treat more severe allergies by gradually reducing the immune system response to certain triggers. Patients are periodically injected with a miniscule amount of the allergen, so that the body develops an immunity over time. Shots are administered every few weeks at first, and then less frequently as immunity builds.
Like allergies, asthma can be caused by external stimuli, but it can also be chronic, exercise-induced or occur as the result of an illness. Asthma causes a person’s airways to become inflamed, narrow and swell, and produce extra mucus. Common symptoms include difficulty breathing, chest pain, coughing and wheezing.
Asthma can usually be managed with a controller inhaler, along with a rescue inhaler to treat flare-up symptoms. In more serious cases, patients may require oral steroids or longer-acting inhalers.
The same substances that trigger nasal allergy symptoms can also cause asthma symptoms, leading to a presence of both illnesses at the same time — called allergic asthma or allergy-induced asthma. A family history of nasal allergies increases a person’s risk for developing allergic asthma.
Some medications are designed to treat both asthma and allergies. These medications work by blocking the inflammatory chemicals the body releases after coming in contact with an allergen. They also help to keep bronchial tubes — the airways that run through your lungs — from constricting.
The best way to cope with allergies and asthma is through prevention. Those who suffer from one or both of these conditions should educate themselves on the factors that trigger their symptoms and limit exposure to them. It is also important to be aware when symptoms are beginning to flare up.
Because allergy and asthma symptoms can change over time, patients may need to adjust treatments accordingly. Work with your physician to find the best treatment, and check in with your doctor regularly.
Dr. Robert Wilson is an otolaryngologist with Saint Joseph ENT Center, KentuckyOne Health.