Allergies and asthma

Double Trouble: Understanding the Connection between Allergies and Asthma

You may be surprised to know that allergies and asthma often go hand in hand. Both of them can be triggered by substances like pet fur, pollen or dust mites, and cause similar symptoms. In some people, skin or food allergies can cause asthmatic symptoms – we call this allergy-induced asthma or allergic asthma.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic disease of your airways which leads to labored breathing. The air passages are inflamed and the airways that carry oxygen to your lungs get constricted. This causes an individual to experience symptoms like coughing, wheezing, breathlessness, and tightness in the chest. Severe asthma can be very debilitating, and can even hamper normal physical activity and make it difficult for the affected person to talk. Asthma can also be caused by chronic allergies.

Allergic Reaction and Symptoms of Asthma

When your own immune system proteins, known as antibodies, perceive a harmless substance like pollen, dander, or dust as harmful, it tries to protect your body from that substance. In doing so, the antibodies bind to the substance and chemicals are released by the immune system. This results in allergic symptoms like congested nose, watery or itchy eyes, rashes, sneezing, and so on. In certain cases, this reaction affects the lungs and airways, leading to asthmatic symptoms.

Treating Allergies and Asthma

The two conditions can be treated together or individually, depending on the medicine used.

  • Leukotriene modifier: Montelukast is a medicine that can provide relief from allergic and asthmatic symptoms. It’s called a leukotriene modifier – common brand name is Singulair – and it’s a small pill that helps control the immune system reactions by inhibiting the release of chemicals like histamines during allergic reactions. It can induce drowsiness, so it is not normally recommended for use during the day. In some rare cases, there could be psychological reactions; if you see a family member displaying odd behavior, we recommend you bring them into EPIC Primary Care to see a physician straight away.

  • Allergy Shots: Also called immunotherapy, this works by progressively reducing the magnitude of the immune system responses to allergens. This treatment method works by giving regular injections of very small amounts of allergens that trigger your symptoms. This helps you build immunity to these allergens, diminishing your allergic reactions. Over time, the symptoms of asthma also decrease. It’s a long-term treatment method and requires getting injections regularly for at least 3 to 5 years.

  • Anti-immunoglobulin E therapy (IgE): The antibodies released by your immune system to fight what it perceives as ‘harmful substances’ are known as IgE. When your system comes into contact with the same allergen again, the IgE antibodies recognize it and trigger the immune system to release various chemicals like histamine into your blood. Omalizumab (Xolair) medicine interferes with the IgE and helps to prevent the allergic reaction that sets off asthmatic symptoms.

Your EPIC Primary Care physician may prescribe other medicines as they deem necessary, especially if your symptoms become severe. But your best bet is identifying your allergy triggers and avoiding them to the greatest extent possible.

Risk Factors for Allergic Asthma

An individual with chronic allergies is at a higher than normal risk for asthma; anyone with a family history of severe allergies, or allergic asthma, is more likely to develop allergic asthma than an individual with no such family history.

Allergic asthma is abundantly common; however, all types of asthma are not caused by allergies. They can also be triggered by:

  • Strenuous or intense physical activity
  • Infections
  • Cold air
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • Stress and/or anxiety

Many people often have more than one trigger for asthma.

Testing for Asthma and Allergies

It is critical that you know what triggers your allergies; once you identify the allergens, you can do your best to avoid them as much as possible. At EPIC Primary Care, we offer allergy testing services that can help you learn about your allergens.

We also provide pulmonary testing services. This will help your EPIC physician to give an accurate diagnosis about whether you have asthma, or just allergic reactions. Pulmonary function tests or PFTs are noninvasive tests that show how well your lungs are functioning. These tests measure your lung volume, capacity, rates of flow, and gas exchange. The results of the test can help your EPIC Primary Care physician diagnose and decide the treatment for your asthma.

There are two methods for conducting PFTs; depending on what information your EPIC physician needs, either or both tests may be ordered:

  • Spirometry: This is performed using a spirometer, which is a device that has a mouthpiece attached to a small electronic machine.
  • Plethysmography: In this test, you are asked to sit or stand inside an air-tight compartment and a machine measures changes in volume in different areas of your body. It measures these changes with blood pressure cuffs or other sensors.

Pulmonary Function Tests measure:

  • Tidal volume (VT): the amount of air inhaled or exhaled during normal breathing.
  • Minute volume (MV): the total amount of air exhaled every minute.
  • Vital capacity (VC): the total volume of air that can be exhaled after inhaling as much as possible
  • Functional residual capacity (FRC):  the amount of air left in lungs after normal exhalation
  • Residual volume: the amount of air left in the lungs after exhaling maximum
  • Total lung capacity: the total volume of the lungs when filled with maximum air.
  • Forced vital capacity (FVC): the amount of air exhaled forcefully and quickly after inhaling maximum air
  • Forced expiratory volume (FEV): the amount of air expired during the first, second, and third seconds of the FVC test.
  • Forced expiratory flow (FEF):  the average rate of flow during the middle half of the FVC test.
  • Peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR): the fastest rate at which you can force air out of your lungs.

Normal values differ depending on age, race, sex, and so on, and hence test results are compared to the average for other individuals of the same age, race, sex, height, etc., as well as to your own previous results.

Have you or a family member experienced symptoms like those mentioned above? If you think someone in your family could be asthmatic, bring them to EPIC Primary Care where a qualified doctor can examine them. To schedule an appointment for a pulmonary function test, simply call or walk in to any of our three care centers at Detroit, Ferndale and Southfield for immediate care and attention.

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