Asthma and Allergies: The Complete Guide


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The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) sponsors an awareness campaign every year in May to highlight the symptoms, prevention, and treatment of these two health conditions. The organization specifically chose May because allergy and asthma symptoms always peak at this time of year. Although no cure exists for either allergies or asthma, it’s possible to prevent serious complications and death with enough information.

The AAFA states that 24.5 million Americans have asthma and that 10 people die from it every day. Approximately one-fourth of the people with asthma in this country are children. Allergies affect more than 50 million people in the United States across all age brackets and the numbers appear to be climbing each year.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic disease, which means that you can expect to experience episodes of it indefinitely. With asthma, your airways become inflamed after inhaling something your body is sensitive to.

The Most Common Asthma Triggers

  1. Cockroaches: The body parts, feces, and saliva of these common household pests can trigger an asthmatic reaction.
  2. Dust mites: Dust mites are microscopic creatures that feed off human skin flakes. They’re most often present in bed covers, carpets, clothes, fabric, furniture, mattresses, pillows, and stuffed toys. The body parts and feces of dust mites are the most common allergens.
  3. Mold: Mold can grow anywhere where moisture exists. Typical places inside the home include bathtubs, shower stalls, faucets, and damp basements. Outdoors, it’s common to find mold on wood, soil, on leaves, and on plant debris.
  4. Pets: The dander, feces, hair, saliva, and urine of dogs, cats, and other companion animals are all common allergy triggers that can cause an asthma attack. You don’t necessarily have to live with a pet to develop a sensitivity since people can carry hairs and odors on their clothing.
  5. Pollen: Pollen comes from grass, trees, and weeds. Although it tends to peak in the spring, it can linger in the air ducts and indoor air of your home all year long.

With mild symptoms of asthma, a flare-up typically only lasts for a few minutes. Severe symptoms can last for several hours or even days. The most common asthma symptoms include chest tightness, coughing, rapid breathing, shortness of breath, and wheezing. A severe asthma attack is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention.

Symptoms of Severe Asthma

  1. Blue coloring or a pale appearance of the face, fingernails, or lips
  2. Chest expands but doesn’t deflate when exhaling
  3. Infants or young children who don’t respond to or recognize parents
  4. Rapid breathing with chest retractions
  5. Rapid nostril movement
  6. Stomach and/or ribs move in and out quickly and deeply

What is an Allergy?

When you have an allergic reaction, your body’s immune system mistakenly believes that something you have been exposed to or inhale is harmful. Your allergies may be seasonal or they could be chronic throughout your life. Although many different categories of allergies exist, the following represent the most common:

The Most Common Allergies

  • Drug: Fortunately, true allergic reactions to both prescription and non-prescription medications are rare. It’s common for someone to think they are having an allergic reaction to a drug when they are really experiencing a different type of side effect. Most doctors diagnose a drug allergy based on the patient’s history and self-reported symptoms, although some will perform a skin test to rule out other possibilities.
  • Food: Your body’s immune system creates an antibody called immunoglobulin. It’s these antibodies that react with the ingredients of a specific food and can cause symptoms. The most common food allergies in the United States include egg, milk, fish, peanut, shellfish, soy, tree nut, and wheat.
  • Insect: You can have an allergic reaction to both stinging and non-stinging insects. Bees, hornets, wasps, and yellow jackets are the most common stinging insects to cause an allergy while cockroaches and dust mites represent the most common non-stinging insects to trigger an allergic reaction.
  • Latex: Natural rubber latex, typically found in balloons, condoms, latex gloves, rubber bands, and other everyday products, comes from the protein located in Brazilian rubber tree plants. This type of allergy can be severe. Some people with a latex allergy need to have contact with the product to develop symptoms while others only need to inhale its smell.
  • Mold: Mold can grow in any moist environment both indoors and outdoors. This means that you can experience an allergic reaction all year long. Mold is a fungus, which makes it different from animals and plants in how it grows. It produces spores that travel through the air where people with mold allergies inhale them and develop a reaction.
  • Pets: Up to 30 percent of the population struggles with pet allergies. When you sneeze or have another type of reaction, it’s because of a harmless protein in the animal’s urine, saliva, or dead skin cells called dander.
  • Pollen: This type of allergy also goes by the name hay fever or seasonal allergic rhinitis. Plants such as grass, trees, and weeds release tiny grains of pollen into the air to reproduce the same type of plant. Unfortunately, pollen makes millions of people miserable every spring and at other times of the year as well.

Allergy Symptoms

Allergies can produce numerous symptoms that range in severity depending on the specific trigger and the sensitivity of your immune system. The most common allergy symptoms include:

  • Bloating
  • Chest tightness
  • Cough
  • Diarrhea
  • Hives
  • Itchy and watery eyes
  • Itchy throat
  • Light-headedness
  • Pain
  • Rashes
  • Redness to skin
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Stomach cramps
  • Tongue swelling
  • Throat closing
  • Vomiting
  • Wheezing

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can cause death. It requires immediate medical attention. It generally involves more than one bodily system, such as the lungs, mouth, skin, gut, or heart. One hallmark symptom of anaphylaxis is feeling like something awful is about to happen. Other common symptoms include:

Severa Allergy Symptoms That Could Be Deadly

  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Itching
  • Lip, throat, or tongue swelling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Skin rashes or hives
  • Stomach pain
  • Uterine cramps
  • Wheezing
  • Vomiting

As you can see, the symptoms of asthma, allergies, and anaphylaxis often overlap. If you suspect that you or your child could have asthma or allergies, please schedule an appointment with your primary care provider at WMHS or your child’s pediatrician as soon as possible.  

Please note, the information provided throughout this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and video, on or available through this website is for general information purposes only. If you are experiencing relating symptoms, please visit your doctor or call 9-1-1 in an emergency.