Asthma and allergies are results of an autoimmune response to certain causes or triggers. To put it simply, those who suffer from allergies or asthma have immune systems that overreact. When exposed to a trigger (allergen), the body overcompensates and doesn’t know to turn off. The result is allergy symptoms, including asthma.
“Allergies are mild to moderate reactions to triggers that affect the upper respiratory tract, including the eyes, nose, mouth and throat,” said Dr. Richard Singer, a pediatrician affiliated with Sutter Delta Medical Center. “A person may experience eye irritations, a runny nose, itchy throat or even hives. If the allergies are severe enough, they can trigger an asthma attack.”
Asthma occurs when the airways of the lungs become inflamed and produce mucus. The result is wheezing, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest and even coughing. Stress, exercise, illness and allergies can trigger an asthma attack. Asthma caused by the allergies is known as allergy-induced asthma.
Though one can develop allergies or allergy-induced asthma at any age, the earlier the onset and the longer treatment is postponed, the more likely the condition will become serious. When left untreated, asthma can cause lung scarring. That is why it’s especially important for children who exhibit allergy or asthma symptoms to see a doctor as soon as possible.
According to Singer, there are several ways to treat the various stages of allergies and asthma. “There are medications that can slow or stop their progression. An itchy nose and irritated eyes may benefit from an antihistamine. Inflammation in the lungs may require a medication to be reduced, and more severe symptoms may require steroids.”
For some people, allergy shots (immunotherapy) can be an effective tool for minimizing allergy reactions, including asthma. Allergy shots train a person’s immune system to become less sensitive to triggers by exposing the body to the allergens that cause the reactions. In time the body builds up tolerance to the triggers and doesn’t react as severely.
Allergies and asthma are treatable conditions. There is a treatment option for most everyone, no matter how mild or severe the symptoms. Seeking early treatment not only eliminates needless suffering in the short run, but it reduces the chances of a more serious situation occurring in the future.
“Be proactive instead of reactive,” said Singer. “The goal is to come in before you or your child is so sick you need to visit the emergency room.”
– Andrea Stuart is a medical writer affiliated with Sutter Delta Medical Center.