We are at peak allergy season now and about to enter the hottest months of the year—when asthma sufferers are most vulnerable to attacks. There is no cure for asthma or allergies, and many attacks and deaths are preventable with proper treatment and care.1 Asthma affects 24 million Americans including 6.3 million children under the age of 18.1 More than 50 million Americans have all types of allergies—such as pollen, skin, latex—and this rate is climbing.2
What Are Allergies and How Are They Treated?
Allergies occur when the body’s immune system sees a substance as harmful and overreacts to it. These substances are called allergens and include drugs (medicine), food, insects that sting (e.g., bees, wasps) or bite (e.g., ticks, mosquitos), household pests (e.g., cockroaches, dust mites), latex, mold, pets (e.g., dogs, cats), and pollen.3 People with allergies will react to these allergens, and their immune systems will make antibodies (immunoglobulin E, or IgE).3 The symptoms that occur from this production of antibodies is called an allergic reaction (e.g., wheezing, itchy or watery eyes, sneezing, runny nose, rash, hives).3 Serious symptoms are trouble breathing and swelling in the throat or mouth; this may be anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction that requires immediate medical attention.3
If you suspect you may have allergies, it is best to have your doctor, usually an allergy care specialist, do a thorough medical exam to diagnose you properly. Your doctor will do tests to identify your allergens and will prescribe a treatment course specific to you. Treatments can include avoidance of allergens (e.g., food, pets), medication options, or immunotherapy (a treatment to train your immune system not to overreact, which is usually the course of action for environmental allergens such as pollen).3 Many people with allergies subsequently suffer from asthma; proper treatment can make living with asthma and allergies much easier.
What Is Asthma and How Is It Treated?
Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the airways and causes them to become inflamed, which makes it very difficult to breathe. There is no cure for asthma, and the best way to manage it is to avoid certain triggers, take prescribed medications to prevent asthmatic symptoms, and prepare to treat asthmatic episodes properly if and when they occur.4 Common triggers for asthma are smoke, dust mites, pollen, chemicals, extreme weather changes, stress, and exercise.
Symptoms of asthma include coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightening.4 If you have ever experienced these symptoms, it is best to have your doctor perform lung function tests as well as chest or sinus x-rays to diagnose you properly. Based on these results, your doctor can design a treatment plan specific to you, which most likely will include medications as well as trigger avoidance.4 Besides your doctor, there is a wealth of information available from the National Asthma Control Initiative (NACI)—a program of the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program, coordinated by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.5 Visit the website to learn more about how to put the NACI guidelines into action in your community, workplace, school, and home.
1 Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). 2016 National Asthma & Allergy Awareness Month. Accessed May 19, 2016, from http://www.aafa.org/page/asthma-and-allergy-awareness-month.aspx.
2 AAFA. Allergy Facts and Figures. Accessed May 19, 2016, from http://www.aafa.org/page/allergy-facts.aspx.
3 AAFA. Allergies. Accessed May 19, 2016, from http://www.aafa.org/page/allergies.aspx.
4 AAFA. Asthma. Accessed May 19, 2016, from http://www.aafa.org/page/asthma.aspx.
5 National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. National Asthma Control Initiative (NACI). Accessed May 19, 2016, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-pro/resources/lung/naci/index.htm.