Asthma, Allergies and Related Conditions

Asthma, allergies and related conditions

Almost every disease is associated with another related illness. This is especially true for asthma, which affects the respiratory system. Allergies and allergic reactions are the conditions most commonly linked to asthma because allergies can sometimes cause attacks in asthmatics. Other conditions often coexist with asthma and, in some cases, exacerbate symptoms and cause attacks, while still others mimic asthma and cause misdiagnosis. Here are some common conditions related to asthma and how they interact with one another.

Allergies and asthma

This is the biggest one—the most common condition coexisting with asthma and the one most likely to make it worse. Allergies and asthma often come as a package, and for many, managing one condition means managing the other. Atopy, or the predisposition to developing allergies, is much more common in asthmatics than in the larger population.

A common subtype of asthma—allergic asthma—is triggered by (you guessed it!) allergies. Food allergies can trigger asthma symptoms, but most allergic asthma is triggered by inhaled airborne particles. Living with allergic asthma begins with avoiding the things to which you are allergic, but sometimes other preventive steps are in order.

For seasonal allergy sufferers who are also asthmatic this may be the most difficult, but taking an allergy medication during the spring and fall (when the amount of pollen in the air is the highest) may be beneficial. Those same allergy medications, whether prescription or over-the-counter, may help asthmatics who are allergic to dust mites or mold as well. If you experience exercise-induced asthma as well, it may be smartest to exercise indoors during allergy season to minimize the compounding effects of allergies and asthma.

To stay informed, you can check your local air quality year-round at airnow.gov to prepare yourself. Some places are better than others for living with asthma, and the same goes for allergies. For in-home allergens, an air filter or humidifier may help keep symptoms to a minimum, along with killing the AC at night.

The next-most common allergen to complicate asthma is sulfite, a commonly used preservative in beer, wine, fruit juice, jam, prawns and many frozen dinners. A person need only be sensitive to sulfite, not necessarily allergic, to experience inflammation and create asthma symptoms. Other common food and drug allergies can cause problems with asthma as well, so it’s best to stay away from known allergens.

GERD

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly known as GERD or heartburn, can exacerbate asthma symptoms or cause an attack in those with both conditions. This is common: as much as 80% of asthma sufferers also have GERD. It isn’t clear why, but these two diseases often coexist and complicate the other’s symptoms in the same patient. What’s more, some asthma medications can make heartburn worse.

Certain lifestyle changes, such as sleeping on an inclined pillow, avoiding food two to three hours before bed and eating low-acid or low-fat foods may naturally decrease GERD symptoms and limit interaction with asthma symptoms. If you have both conditions and are finding them hard to manage, your doctor may be able to help you manage them better.

Sinusitis

Sinusitis, or sinus infection, is another condition that commonly coexists with asthma. Chronic sinusitis is a lifelong infection of the sinus cavities that causes inflammation, leading the sufferer to feel head and facial pain, puffiness or cold-like symptoms. Sinusitis may be made worse due to asthma, or vice versa. Asthmatics with chronic or periodic sinusitis may feel better using over-the-counter medications such as nasal sprays, decongestants or painkillers.

Obstructive sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing is temporarily interrupted during sleep. Patients with both it and asthma may have more OSA complications than those who have sleep apnea alone. Although asthma often makes OSA worse, having one condition does not necessarily increase the risk of the other.

COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is often mistaken for or misdiagnosed as asthma. These two conditions have almost the exact same symptoms, and are sometimes made worse by the same triggers. The main difference between the two is that COPD is usually diagnosed after the age of 40, while asthma is most often diagnosed during childhood, teenage years or the patient’s 20s. Additionally, patients with COPD are usually former or current tobacco smokers.


More Asthma Resources:

Visit our asthma resources page here.


Inhaler and grass image via Shutterstock.

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