Allergic asthma occurs when a person is around certain triggers like pet dander. Exposure to allergens can lead to an immune system response that affects the lungs and causes symptoms such as shortness of breath.
Allergic asthma is the most common type of asthma.
Allergies can be dangerous if they cause a life threatening response known as anaphylaxis. In allergic asthma, as well as nonallergic asthma, an asthma attack (exacerbation) can sometimes be fatal. As a result, a person may wish to talk with a doctor about identifying asthma triggers to reduce the likelihood of an attack.
In this article, learn about the symptoms of allergic asthma, some causes of the condition, and some potential treatment options.
Asthma symptoms can range from mild to severe. Some of the symptoms include:
- chest tightness
- difficulty breathing
- shortness of breath
People will usually notice these symptoms become worse when they have exposure to certain triggers, which can include allergens.
A serious asthma attack can cause severe airway swelling that makes it difficult to breathe. A person may then require emergency medical treatment to help them breathe.
Healthcare professionals do not know exactly why some people have allergic asthma and others do not, though the condition can run in families.
People with allergic asthma are also more likely to have atopic dermatitis, eczema, and hay fever, as are other family members.
Each individual with allergic asthma may have different triggers. For some people, certain allergens cause no symptoms. In others, however, the same allergens can make breathing difficult and trigger an asthma attack.
Some of the most common environmental allergens include:
- cockroaches, including their saliva, feces, and body parts
- dust mites
- mold spores
- pet dander, such as from dogs or cats
- pollen from plants, including grasses, trees, and weeds
When a person is sensitive to a particular allergen and has exposure to it, their immune system starts to produce the compound immunoglobulin E (IgE). Once triggered, excess IgE in the body can then release other substances that may cause airway inflammation.
Inflammation in the airways can lead to a process that makes them smaller. Breathing through smaller airways is more difficult than breathing through larger ones. The result can be an asthma attack.
A healthcare professional will begin diagnosing allergic asthma by asking a person about their symptoms, including what makes them better or worse.
Next, they may perform respiratory function tests to determine the impact on the airways. They may also undertake skin testing to determine whether or not the person has a reaction to specific allergens.
Allergic asthma is different from other types of asthma because it triggers an immune system response. Other asthma types are reactions to other irritants that cause the airways to get smaller or open and close more easily. Physical activity, exposure to smoke, or respiratory infections can lead to an asthma exacerbation in these asthma types.
The most definitive sign of allergic asthma is when an individual tests positive for an allergen and has asthma symptoms after having exposure to that allergen. Finding this out can help a healthcare professional determine whether or not allergic asthma is the cause.
Avoiding known triggers is the first and most important way to prevent allergic asthma symptoms. For example, if a person has an allergy to pet dander, they should avoid the pets known to cause allergic reactions.
For people with allergies to dust mites, there are other things that they can take at home to reduce their risk of exposure to these mites. They can try:
- Placing allergen-proof bed coverings over pillows and mattresses: These coverings help keep dust mites that might trigger an allergic reaction away from bedding.
- Using a vacuum cleaner with a high efficiency particulate air filter: This reduces the amount of dust present when cleaning.
- Washing bedding regularly: People should do this using a high water temperature to remove dust mites and other potential allergy-causing substances.
- Keeping dust to a minimum: People can do this in the home by washing clothes and toys, especially stuffed toys, regularly and dusting with damp rags to minimize dust in the air.
Keeping the home clean and mold-free can often help reduce the potential triggers of allergic asthma.
There is currently no cure for asthma. However, there are medical treatments that can prevent allergic reactions and asthma symptoms.
Healthcare professionals may also prescribe treatments to reduce airway irritation if a person experiences an asthma attack and to prevent asthma symptoms and airway inflammation in the long term.
Some examples of these treatments include:
- Short-acting inhalers: These medications quickly open up the airways, helping a person breathe more easily. Doctors often call them rescue inhalers because a person can use them quickly when they are having difficulty breathing.
- Long-acting inhalers: People use these medications to keep the airways open for a longer period than short-acting inhalers can achieve.
- Inhaled corticosteroids: These medications help reduce airway inflammation and prevent asthma symptoms.
- Leukotriene modifiers: These drugs reduce the amount of airway swelling in some people with asthma. They can also relax the airways, potentially making it easier to breathe.
- Biologics: These are new injectable medications targeted to modify and improve people’s immune systems and asthma symptoms. They may be particularly helpful for people with severe allergic asthma.
In addition to medications to treat breathing symptoms, a healthcare professional may recommend taking medications called antihistamines to reduce the body’s response to allergen exposure. These drugs are more helpful for people with other allergy symptoms in addition to asthma.
Many medications are available over the counter. Some examples include:
- cetirizine (Zyrtec)
- fexofenadine (Allegra)
- loratadine (Claritin)
- levocetirizine (Xyzal)
These medications help block the body’s response to allergens. Although they will not cure allergic asthma, they may help reduce the severity of an allergic response.
A healthcare professional may recommend allergy immunotherapy to help someone who has allergic asthma. This is a process that exposes the body to small and increasing amounts of an allergen. Having exposure in this way can desensitize a person to the allergen, reducing the chance of their immune system triggering an asthma attack or other symptoms.
Doctors give immunotherapy treatments via injections or tablets that dissolve under the tongue.
Allergic asthma can affect a person’s ability to go outdoors or to other people’s homes, especially if they have pets.
Although curing allergic asthma is not currently possible, many treatments can enhance breathing and improve a person’s overall health and quality of life.
Avoiding the substances that trigger asthma reactions can help, as can taking medications to reduce the severity of an allergic reaction.