One in 10 people in Arizona suffers from asthma, but a quarter of those with the condition don’t know they have it. Let’s explore whether allergies can cause asthma, as well as the signs of an asthma attack, so you can identify and prevent reactions for yourself and your loved ones.
What Is Asthma?
Doctors aren’t entirely sure of what exactly asthma is, but we do know what it does to the body. Asthma is an inflammatory process that affects the bronchial tubes, which carry air to your lungs. During an asthma attack, those tubes become narrow and inflamed, making it difficult for the affected individual to breathe.
Causes of Asthma
Common triggers that may cause this inflammatory reaction include:
- Respiratory infections, like a head cold
- Weather changes, especially during monsoon season in Arizona
- Poor air quality
- Increased population and crowding, which leads to greater risk of infection
Signs of an Asthma Attack
The general symptoms of asthma are persistent coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing. During a more severe reaction, there are a few additional signs of an asthma attack to watch for. If you or someone you know is having a reaction after encountering one of the triggers mentioned above, look for the following symptoms:
- The person is struggling to breathe in and out or take a deep breath.
- The person is experiencing chest retractions.
- The person is too breathless to eat, sleep or speak.
- In severe cases, the person is dizzy, nauseous or experiencing episodes of fainting.
An asthma diagnosis is easier in children because doctors can rule out certain pulmonary conditions that usually only affect adults, like emphysema, bronchitis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. If a young child is consistently coughing and short of breath, the go-to diagnosis is almost always asthma. Genetics can also play an important role, so your doctor will closely examine the patient’s family and personal history in order to form a diagnosis.
It’s important to note that certain individuals are more susceptible to asthma. Grown women and men are equally likely to be diagnosed, but the probability varies by gender and age with children.
- For babies, toddlers and young children, boys are more commonly diagnosed with asthma.
- More teen girls are diagnosed with asthma than teen boys. This is likely due to hormonal changes.
There is no cure for asthma, but there are a few effective ways to manage it. The first step after a diagnosis is to understand what triggers your asthma attacks. Then, it becomes important to stay on top of the following medications:
- Steroid inhalers on a daily basis can decrease airway inflammation.
- Albuterol relaxes the muscles around bronchial tubes for immediate relief.
- Monthly or weekly immunotherapy shots may help those with allergic asthma.
A combination of these methods is usually quite effective, allowing people with asthma to carry out a normal, day-to-day life. However, it’s important that you take this condition seriously. Untreated asthma can cause negative health effects later on, such as:
- Delayed growth in children
- Loss of function in school, work and social settings
- Exhaustion and loss of sleep due to chronic coughing
- Permanently narrowed airways, which may lead to chronic disruptive lung disease
- Possible hospitalization and/or death if severe attacks are left untreated
Finally, COVID-19 does not trigger asthma attacks. The real risk comes from respiratory diseases, like pneumonia, that stem from COVID-19. If you have asthma, take extra precautions during the pandemic — the combination of respiratory diseases, asthma and COVID-19 can be deadly.
How Are Allergies and Asthma Different?
Although closely related, asthma and allergies are quite different. If you have an allergy, your body recognizes the trigger as a foreign object and starts releasing inflammatory reaction. Unlike asthma, this reaction doesn’t always occur in the lungs. Symptoms of allergies can also include:
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Swollen throat
- Skin rashes
Allergies can cause asthma, but it’s not always a result of an allergic response. Similarly, allergies can affect many different parts of the body aside from the lungs. While closely related, they are not the same type of inflammatory disease.
Common Causes of Allergies
Anything from pollen and dust to more specific sensitivities, like bee stings or certain types of food, can trigger allergies. Keep in mind that allergies can cause asthma attacks, so watch out for the common allergens listed below if you have the disease.
- Plants and pollen — particularly Bermuda grass, mesquite trees and olive trees in Arizona
- Pet dander and fur
- Mold inside the home
- Dust mites, which are most common in humid climates
- Indoor air pollution from wood-burning stoves or fireplaces
Nasal steroid spray is one reliable way to treat allergies. Although this common anti-inflammatory is used in the nose rather than the airways, it’s been proven to help reduce asthma attacks. Sometimes, you can decrease the reaction in your lungs if you control the allergy symptoms rooted in your head. Another way to prevent allergy attacks is to simply avoid your triggers. Based on the severity of your reactions, use your best judgment to limit exposure to pets, outdoor activities and smoky cooking.
Whether you have asthma yourself or are the parent of a child with asthma, remember that allergies can cause asthma, but they aren’t the only factor. Always watch for signs of an asthma attack and be sure that inhalers, Albuterol and medical attention are readily available. With the right prevention and treatment methods in place, those with asthma can effectively manage their condition and live a normal life.