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Don’t Let Allergic Asthma Take Your Breath Away

by Dominique Vanier, B.Sc.H., M.Env.Sc., on 15 March 2016, Allergies
allergic asthma

It’s finally springtime, and you’re outside walking your dog enjoying the nice change of weather.

Suddenly, you experience trouble breathing, a tight chest, with coughing and wheezing. This is what an asthma attack feels like…

Allergic asthma – the most common form of asthma – is a specific type of allergy that results in an asthma attack. Some individuals will experience sneezing and watery eyes when they encounter an allergen; those with allergic asthma, on the other hand, will experience an asthma attack.

Symptoms of allergic and non-allergic asthma are virtually the same. Common triggers of allergic asthma are pollen, mould spores, animal dander and saliva, and dust mites and their feces.

When your immune system encounters offending allergens such as these, it overreacts by producing immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. These IgE antibodies then signal the immune system to mount an aggressive and rapid attack, which causes the release of inflammation-mediating chemicals like histamine.

The four principal signs of asthma are:

  1. bronchospasm (tightening of airway muscles),
  2. edema (excess fluid),
  3. inflammation, and
  4. mucous secretion.

Histamine is the chief compound responsible for asthmatic symptoms, including the inflammation and tightening of airways and excessive mucous secretion.

Moreover, allergic asthma is triggered by more than just the common allergens. Irritants including tobacco smoke, air pollution, and chemical odours and perfumes may also be at fault for inducing an allergic asthma attack.

Prevention and proper management is imperative to good lung health

If you suffer from allergic asthma, it is important to work with your primary healthcare provider to develop a management plan that prevents future allergic asthma attacks.

Your doctor will provide you with an inhaler (or “puffer”), which delivers medication into the lungs. Inhalers typically contain a corticosteroid, a short- or a long-acting beta-agonist (bronchodilator) depending on how quickly relief is needed.

Additionally, there are multiple lifestyle modifications that can help prevent future allergic asthma reactions:

  • Understand your family history. Individuals with a family history of atopy (i.e. allergies, eczema, and asthma) are at increased risk of developing allergic asthma. Avoiding environmental triggers and allergens, particularly in children at risk, may help prevent future allergies and asthma.
  • Avoid known triggers. Known allergens like cigarette smoke and chemicals in the workplace or environment should be avoided. Don’t allow smoking in the house.
  • Breathe easy at home. If your home environment contains dust mites that exacerbate your allergic asthma, try encasing pillows, mattresses, and box springs with allergen-proof covers. Washing bed sheets once a week in hot water can also help eliminate dust mites.
  • Get symptomatic relief. For mild allergic asthma accompanied by other allergy symptoms such as sneezing, itchy nose, scratching throat, and burning eyes, Allergy Relief can help reduce histamine levels and alleviate non-asthma symptoms.
  • Track your asthma. Work with your primary healthcare provider to determine a baseline of your peak flow reading – a measure of how efficiently air flows from your lungs. Peak flow readings can detect narrowing of your airways hours or days before asthmatic symptoms start. A peak flow reading below 50 per cent of your normal value can be a sign of a severe and dangerous asthma attack. You can obtain a pocket-sized peak flow device from your doctor.
  • Exercise, but know your limits. In asthmatic individuals, moderate exercise can help improve lung function and breathing. In fact, no exercise coupled with a high body mass index (BMI) is a risk factor for asthmatic reactions. Exercise is not only safe in asthmatics, but also improves quality of life.

Potential complications of allergic asthma include hives, swelling, difficulty swallowing, fainting, confusion, and slurred speech. If you experience any of these red flags, it is important to seek medical advice immediately.

References:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1699987
http://www.healthline.com/asthma/anatomy-animations#1/airway-inflammation
http://www.worldallergy.org/professional/who_paa2003.pdf
http://www.aafa.org/page/asthma-prevention.aspx

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