Allergic asthma is the most common variety of asthma. About half of adult asthma patients and about 90% of children suffering from asthma have allergies. Symptoms of all types of asthma are similar. The only difference between allergic asthma and other types is the trigger that causes flare-ups. Allergic asthma is triggered by allergens and you can prevent flare-ups to a great extent if you take steps to avoid them.
Allergy and allergic asthma
The immune system protects the body against disease-causing microbes and other harmful substances that invade it. It is very good at identifying harmful pathogens and neutralizing them. In some people, the immune system mistakenly identifies an otherwise harmless substance as harmful. It becomes sensitive to the substance and exposure triggers an allergic reaction. Substances that trigger allergic reactions are called allergens.
When the person is exposed to an allergen, the immune system responds by taking steps to destroy, inactivate or expel it from the body. After the first exposure, it makes special proteins called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). They are antibodies and they remain in the body to protect against future invasions. The person has now become sensitive to the allergen. On subsequent exposures, the antibodies bind to the allergen and special cells called mast cells release a chemical called histamine.
Histamines have a dual role. They create inflammation, which produces the typical runny nose and irritation associated with an allergic reaction. This is designed to make the person itch, cough or sneeze, which allows the body to expel the allergen. Histamine and the inflammation it causes make it easier for white blood cells and other chemicals to arrive at the invasion site. Within minutes of exposure to the allergen, there is a full-fledged war going on.
Although allergic reaction is normally limited to itching, redness, soreness, watery nose and watering eyes, in some people, it can result in an asthma attack. The allergic reaction causes inflammation in the airways. Muscles surrounding the windpipe contract and narrow it down, which makes breathing difficult. In addition, excess mucus is secreted making breathing even more difficult. The symptoms are the same as any asthma attack: coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, rapid breathing and tightness in the chest.
You are at a higher risk of allergic asthma if you have allergy or a family history of allergy. Doctors can confirm whether you have allergic asthma and it is often possible to pinpoint the exact substances that trigger the attacks. Allergy diagnosis is usually done by testing your blood for IgE. Identification of the allergen is done with a skin test. A very minute amount of the suspected allergen is injected under your skin. The skin reaction to the allergen confirms if you are sensitive to the substance.
Common allergens that trigger asthma attacks
There are many allergens that can trigger an asthma attack. Some of them like mold spores, pollen and dust mites are tiny enough to be inhaled deep into the airways. Here are some common asthma triggers at home.
Pollen is a common allergen and they are easily carried by air. Pollen is seasonal and pollen count tends to peak during flowering seasons. Once they are in your home, they can circulate through the air ducts, settle on surfaces and remain throughout the year.
2. Dust mites
Dust mites are tiny creatures belonging to the spider family. They are invisible to the naked eye and live in clothes and fabric materials like carpets, beds, stuffed toys, blankets and upholstery. They feed on skin flakes that people shed. While they don’t cause any direct harm, their body parts and droppings are potent allergens.
Mold and mildew grow on moist surfaces. Mold is common in soil, dead plant parts, wood and other organic garbage. Inside your home, wet walls, damp basements and corners are ideal places for mold growth. Molds produce fine spores, which are easily carried by air and inhaled. They are common allergy triggers.
4. Pet dander
Pet dander is a combination of dried pet skin and saliva. Besides dander, fur, body fluids and litter of pets can also trigger an allergic reaction. People who come in contact with animals often act as carriers for animal dander. So, dander may find its way into your home even if you don’t have pets.
5. Cockroach droppings and parts
The extent of the problem varies, but most urban homes have cockroaches. Their droppings, saliva and body parts can trigger allergy.
It is impossible to completely eliminate exposure to allergens, but you can definitely take steps to minimize it. Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Avoid airborne allergens
If you are sensitive to pollen, stay indoors. Use a high-quality air filter that is compatible with your HVAC system. Change air filters on time because dusty air filters make matters worse.
2. Avoid dust mites
Wash bed linen regularly in hot water to clear dust and kill dust mites. Store washed linen in washable covers. Get rid of carpets, heavy curtains and furnishings that are difficult to clean and accumulate dust. Buy only washable stuffed toys and wash them regularly. Vacuum regularly.
3. Keep humidity at optimum levels
Too much humidity encourages spread of airborne infections, mold growth and cockroach infestation. Don’t use evaporative coolers or room humidifiers. Instead, use an air-conditioner for cooling and a whole-home humidifier in winter. Fix any plumbing or roof leaks without delay.
4. Avoid pets
If you have pets and are allergic to pet dander, finding a new home for them is the best option. If that is not possible, keep them outdoors or at least away from the bedrooms. Wash your hands and face thoroughly after interacting with pets.
5. Pest control
Keep your kitchen clean and clear the garbage every day to discourage cockroaches. Contact a pest control service to get rid of cockroaches using gels, which don’t deteriorate indoor air quality.
6. Use a HEPA mask
If you have to go into a dusty environment or engage in an activity that stirs up dust like cleaning or gardening, use a HEPA mask. Wash your hands and face thoroughly after the activity.
Treatment for allergic asthma
Allergic asthma is treated like other types of asthma with an asthma action plan. As allergic asthma is triggered by allergic reactions, preventing it can also prevent asthma attacks.
There are generally two types of treatments for allergy, both of which are designed to reduce your body’s sensitivity to allergens. The first is called immunotherapy. In this method, you have to take regular allergy shots containing very minute amounts of the allergen. This type of controlled exposure gradually desensitizes the immune system to the substance and prevents it from triggering allergic reactions. This process can take up to five years.
The second line of treatment is called anti-immunoglobulin therapy. Drugs that interfere with the production of IgE or the mechanism of IgE functioning are used to suppress the immune system response. Both these treatments have to be carefully done under the supervision of your doctor.
The best natural method of controlling allergic asthma is to avoid exposure to allergens and airborne irritants. If you prevent allergic reactions, you are in effect preventing asthma flare-ups. When symptoms or flare-ups do occur, they have to be treated according to your asthma action plan. It is also important to avoid airborne irritants like fumes, smoke and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). They can make your symptoms worse or cause airway inflammation. VOCs can be avoided by using environment-friendly paints and other green construction materials. To learn more, download our free quick guide to green and healthy homes here https://twitter.com/EbenGreenHomes.