Is Allergic Asthma Real?
If it seems as if you’re suffering from both allergies and asthma, you’re probably not imagining it. According to the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America, allergic asthma is the most common form of asthma. Upwards of 26 million people in the United States suffer from asthma – 60 percent of those people have allergic asthma.
What Is Allergic Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic disease of the lungs. This disease causes inflammation – this inflammation can cause the airways to become narrow, making it difficult to breathe.
There are three components of asthma:
- Airway obstruction – typically when we breathe, the muscles of the lungs and the airways are relaxed. This allows us to breathe freely. When someone has asthma, these muscles become contracted, causing shortness of breath.
- Inflammation – inflammation occurs in the airways, which also contributes to breathing difficulties.
- Airway irritability – people with asthma have sensitive airways. These means that encountering a trigger can cause the airways to become inflamed and constrict.
When someone has allergic asthma, coming into contact with an allergen triggers asthma symptoms. These allergens cause the body to produce a substance called immunoglobulin E (IgE). When IgE levels are elevated, inflammation occurs and breathing may become difficult.
What Is the Difference Between Allergic and Nonallergic Asthma?
Asthma is often termed as “allergic” or “nonallergic” asthma. However, it can also be called “intrinsic” or “extrinsic”; intrinsic asthma meaning that the asthma has no allergic triggers, while extrinsic asthma does have allergic triggers.
Extrinsic, or allergic, asthma is more common than intrinsic asthma. This type of asthma involves the immune system; an allergen, such as dust, causes the immune system to overreact. When this happens, IgE is overproduced, thus triggering asthma symptoms.
Intrinsic, or nonallergic, asthma does not involve a systemic response. It only occurs in the airways of the lungs.
Despite its differences, the symptoms of allergic and nonallergic asthma are similar. Asthma attacks can occur at any time, causing inflammation of the airways, as well as mucus production and narrowing of the airways. This airway narrowing causes:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
- Chest pain
- Rapid breathing
Treatment of allergic and nonallergic asthma is similar, although treatment of allergic asthma may also include medications aimed at reducing allergic symptoms as well as asthma symptoms.
What Causes Allergic Asthma?
As we’ve already discussed, something must spur an allergic reaction in order to produce allergic asthma symptoms.
According to James T C Li, MD, Ph.D. of Mayo Clinic, “An allergic response occurs when immune system proteins (antibodies) mistakenly identify a harmless substance, such as tree pollen, as an invader. In an attempt to protect your body from the substance, antibodies bind to the allergen… For some people, this same reaction also affects the lungs and airways, leading to asthma symptoms.”
What Triggers Allergic Asthma?
There are a variety of common triggers – and what triggers allergic asthma in one person may not trigger allergic asthma in another person.
Common allergic asthma triggers may include:
- Cockroaches. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to avoid these triggers, as they live all over the world! In fact, studies indicate that most urban homes have cockroaches. The feces, saliva, and body parts of the cockroach are believed to be most allergenic.
- Pollen. Pollen is a product from plants such as weeds, grasses, and trees. Fortunately, pollen peaks at certain parts of the year – but if it gets caught in homes, such as in air ducts, it can wreak havoc much longer.
- Pets. Many people have an allergy to animals such as dogs or cats – but what they are actually allergic to is the fur, dander, saliva, feces, or pet urine. As such, people with a pet allergy may find that their symptoms exacerbate even when there is no animal present, because they may be exposed to an animal substance.
- Dust mites. Dust mites feed on human skin flakes and are found on mattresses, furniture, pillows, carpets, bedding, and clothing.
- Mold. Mold grows anywhere there is moisture. If found outdoors, the mold may grow in piles of wet leaves, in the soil, and on wood. Indoors, a wet bathroom or basement is a breeding ground for mold. Mold can also become airborne readily because it produces tiny spores.
It is important to note that there are other triggers for asthma; sometimes, a non-allergic trigger may still cause an asthma attack, meaning that an allergic reaction is not occurring. Some of these triggers include:
- Exposure to smoke, such as tobacco, incense, fireworks, or fireplace
- Cold air
- Exercising in cold air
- Exposure to chemical odors
- Dusty rooms
- Heavy scents, such as perfumes or air fresheners