Allergies and Asthma: What’s the Connection?

March 21, 2023

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What do allergies and asthma have in common? They may be more connected than you think. We asked Adventist Health allergist Sahana Vishwanath, MD, to tell us more about the connection between allergies and asthma—and how you can successfully manage both.

Understanding allergens

Understanding the connection between allergies and asthma starts with understanding allergens. Allergens are the substances that trigger allergic reactions. They can also trigger asthma symptoms or make asthma harder to control.

Dr. Vishwanath explains that inhalant allergens are the most common types of allergic asthma triggers. These are allergens that you breathe in, as opposed to ones you touch or eat. Inhalant allergens include:

  • Animal allergens, including pet dander from cats or dogs or pest allergens from rodents or cockroaches
  • Dust mites
  • Indoor and outdoor fungi, such as mold or mildew
  • Seasonal allergens, such as weed, grass or tree pollen

“Certain occupational allergens may also result in worsening asthma or in developing asthma for the first time,” Dr. Vishwanath notes. Occupational allergens are workplace-specific substances, such as coal dust affecting miners or moldy hay affecting farmers.

Managing allergies helps manage asthma

If you keep allergy symptoms in check, it will likely be easier to control your asthma symptoms as well. Your healthcare provider may prescribe oral medications, antihistamines or nasal steroid sprays to manage allergy symptoms. If you have asthma, you’ll also likely be prescribed an inhaler. Following your healthcare provider’s treatment plan will help improve both your asthma and allergy symptoms.

“For allergic asthma specifically, allergen immunotherapy—also known as allergy shots—helps resolve hypersensitivity at a cellular level,” says Dr. Vishwanath. For this reason, allergy shots may be particularly effective for improving asthma and allergies at the same time.

Lifestyle changes and learning your asthma triggers

One of the most important tools in managing allergies and asthma is understanding your personal triggers. An allergist can perform a skin test to identify which allergens trigger a reaction in your body.

“As an allergist, I have seen many patients who are unaware of their triggers and are surprised to find the sensitivities on their skin tests,” says Dr. Vishwanath. “Small changes targeted toward avoiding specific allergens can help patients a lot.”

Some lifestyle changes can also help manage allergy symptoms. You may:

  • Clean your air conditioning vents regularly
  • Keep pets out of your bedroom
  • Run air purifiers regularly
  • Use mattress covers and pillow covers that protect against dust mites
  • Wash your sheets and blankets in hot water weekly

Are allergens the only asthma triggers?

Allergens are the most common triggers for asthma. Dr. Vishwanath notes that underlying allergies are the cause of asthma about 60% to 80% of the time in children and about 50% of the time in adults. But not everyone who has allergies will develop asthma, and vice versa.

Many people have asthma triggers that aren’t allergens, and it’s important to understand these as well. Common non-allergic asthma triggers include:

  • Exercise
  • Humidity
  • Infections
  • Intense odors
  • Smoke from fires
  • Temperature extremes
  • Tobacco smoke

“Maintain a diary to monitor your triggers so you can determine what to avoid,” Dr. Vishwanath advises. Recording your triggers also gives you useful information to bring to your healthcare provider. This diary is a good starting point for a discussion about asthma management.

If you struggle with allergies or asthma, a healthcare provider can offer evaluation and treatment to help you manage symptoms. Find a healthcare provider near you.