Asthma Verses Allergies
More than 25 million people in the U.S. have asthma, according to a recent study by the Cleveland Clinic. Of those, over 15 million have asthmatic reactions caused by common allergens, ranking allergic asthma as the most common form of asthma in America. But how can you tell the difference between a chronic asthma condition and an asthmatic reaction induced by allergies? Read on to find out the signs and causes of asthma and allergic asthma, as well as how to diagnose and treat these conditions.
What’s the difference between allergies and asthma?
Allergies occur when the immune system encounters a particular substance (an allergen) and mistakenly identifies it as a threat. The body then produces immunoglobulin E antibodies that bind to the allergen, releasing powerful chemical substances that, though created to protect the body, trigger symptoms such as runny nose, nasal congestion, hives and itchy eyes. Common allergy conditions include dermatitis, eczema, hay fever and conjunctivitis.
Asthma is a chronic lung disease that can make it difficult for patients to breathe properly. It affects people of all ages and usually develops in childhood, although it can also appear later in adulthood. During an asthmatic episode (known as an asthma attack), airways in the lungs begin to constrict and, in some cases, produce mucus that can limit the amount of air that can flow freely through the lungs. Asthma symptoms include wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath.
Asthma can be caused by non-allergenic factors including infections of the airway, stress, certain medications, smoke and air temperature. Additionally, a person can experience an asthmatic episode as a result of encountering pollen, dust mites, mold, pet dander and other allergens. This is known as allergic asthma — the most common form of asthma in children and adults.
How do I know if I have asthma or allergic asthma?
The only way to know if you have a chronic asthma condition or allergic asthma is to get tested by a physician. To test for allergic asthma, doctors typically utilize a skin test, which involves making a small prick on skin of a patient’s arm or back and applying allergens next to the exposed area. This form of testing is highly accurate and can check up to 40 different allergen substances at once. Blood testing is also sometimes used to screen for allergies.
There are three main testing methods for asthma: FeNO testing, spirometry and peak flow testing. FeNO testing involves the patient breathing into a machine that measures the nitric oxide levels in their breath, which signifies whether the lungs are inflamed. Spirometry testing also requires the patient to blow into a machine, but it focuses on measuring how fast the patient can breathe in and out, as well as how much air they can hold in their lungs. In a peak flow test, the patient is asked to blow into a small handheld device that measures how fast they can breathe in and out. Peak flow testing may be done several times over a number of weeks to see if there are any changes in the patient’s breathing before an asthma diagnosis is reached.
What treatment options are available?
After getting a diagnosis, you and your doctor can work together to develop a treatment plan that best serves your needs.
The most common treatment for asthma is a prescription inhaler: a medicine-filled canister that works to deliver medication straight to the lungs in order to narrow the muscles in the airways to allow for more oxygen to flow. Inhalers are designed to be carried on your person at all times and come in two variations — dry powder or metered dose. Another common treatment method is a nebulizer, which is a specialized machine that uses a mask to convert asthma medication into a mist that can be easily inhaled into the lungs.
For allergic asthma, common treatment options include OTC allergy medications such as nasal steroid sprays, decongestants, saline nasal sprays and antihistamines. In more severe cases of allergic asthma, a doctor may prescribe an epinephrine inhaler. In addition to these short-term treatment options, a doctor may recommend an allergy shot, which works by introducing a small dose of allergens into your body to help your immune system build up a tolerance over time.
The most important factor in managing asthma and allergic asthma is knowing your triggers and doing your best to avoid them. It is highly recommended to carry an emergency inhaler with you at all times in the event of an asthma attack.
If you or someone in your family are experiencing symptoms of chronic asthma or allergies, visit Midwest Express Clinic to receive a comprehensive diagnosis and develop a personalized relief plan with one of our expert providers. To find a clinic nearest you, visit midwestexpressclinic.com/locations.