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Allergic Asthma: Symptoms, Causes, and Management


Your body has its own mechanisms to fight incoming infections and clear particles from the air we breathe. Sometimes, these systems over-react to an allergen and this causes allergic asthma. This reaction is what causes the common symptoms of allergic asthma.


Allergens like pollen, dust, and mold spores may trigger reactions in some people that set off asthma attacks. In these people, the body assumes the allergen is a threat. It releases a type of immunity protein called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). High amounts of IgE cause changes in the airways leading to:

  • Airways, especially the inner lining, swelling up or becoming irritated
  • Production of a large amount of thicker mucus
  • Constriction of muscles around the airway, making it more narrow


The severity of symptoms and the discomfort varies from person to person, even among those affected by allergic asthma.


What are the signs and symptoms of allergic asthma?

  • Shortness of breath
  • Reduced ability to do physical tasks
  • Sleep pattern problems
  • Feeling of tightness or pain in the chest
  • Wheezing during exhalation (Especially in children)
  • Cough attacks or wheezing attacks


In some people, the allergic symptoms show more, including:

  • Itchy or runny eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Rashes
  • Stuffy nose/sinuses


When the condition worsens, it leads to:

  • Increased frequency and/or severity of asthma symptoms
  • Increased use of an inhaler
  • A notable difference in breathing capacity as measured by a device called a Peak Flow Meter


What are the common irritants causing allergic asthma?

  • Pollen - usually seasonal or while in a certain geography
  • Dander - skin flakes when living with pets
  • Mold - spores of mold usually are present in dark, humid, places
  • Dust mites - little mites that live in carpets and clothing or their feces
  • Cockroaches and their body parts or secretions


Some irritants, although not allergy-causing, can still trigger asthma, such as:

  • Cold dry air
  • Smoking or inhaling smoke
  • Chemicals
  • Some perfume


Intense emotions that lead to laughing or crying may also trigger asthma attacks in some people. Your doctor will be able to identify the specific allergen causing your condition with a test and help you find steps to avoid exposure as much as possible.


How can you diagnose allergic asthma?

Your doctor may ask you several questions about your condition and your history, as well as about your living situation, environment, and any related history in the family of allergies. Your doctor may recommend a test to identify the kind of allergen triggering the condition by pricking your skin slightly in different areas with an allergen and noting its reaction. While this seems difficult, it can help you identify the specific allergen and modify your lifestyle accordingly.


Further, your doctor may want to know the status of your airways by doing a few tests like:

  • Spirometry - Deeply breathing into a tube to measure air moving in and out
  • Exhaled nitric oxide test - Usually used to identify asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic cases
  • Bronchoprovocation - A test similar to allergic tests, but done by breathing in controlled amounts of allergen in a proper setting


How is allergic asthma managed?

  • There is no permanent cure for the condition. The solutions revolve around avoiding allergens and managing symptoms.
  • The best method is to avoid the allergen as much as possible. Every time you expose yourself, your reactions get triggered again and this leads to the next bout happening even earlier. Staying indoors or away from allergens, and using air purifiers or air conditioners with regularly maintained filters are good ways to avoid the allergens. Cleanliness and hygiene in living spaces, including dusting of carpets, pillows, etc. are very important if you have an allergy to dust mites. Allergen-proof bed and pillow covers may be available in the market.
  • If you have pets, keeping them out of the bedroom is a good step. The kitchen and bathrooms must be kept clean to avoid mold and cockroaches
  • The ideal medications to manage allergic asthma varies from person to person and this is best determined over time with the help of your doctor. You may also be given some medications to be used only when there is a flare-up.
Dr. Vijay Kumar
Respiratory & Sleep Medicine
Meet The Doctor
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