May is Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month! We are putting a spotlight on useful things to know about these two medical conditions and more in the coming weeks.
Seasonal allergies and asthma can make you miserable. And although they can overlap and share common triggers, they are very different medical conditions.
Dr. Alan Goldsobel, of Allergy and Asthma Associates of Northern California, and Tivic Health Medical Board Member, answers our questions regarding the differences between allergies, and asthma, how seasonality impacts these conditions and more.
1. Is there a link between seasonal allergies and asthma? If so, what is it?
If you have allergies, your immune system overreacts to an allergen by producing antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). When that reaction occurs in the nose and eyes, that is called allergic rhinitis or commonly known as hay fever.
Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the lungs. Most often, it is triggered by colds or viral infections, or irritants like smoke exposure or air pollution. In some cases, it can also be triggered by allergen exposures and exercise.
2. What are the most common asthma symptoms?
The most common signs of asthma are coughing, wheezing, a sense of chest tightness, or shortness of breath.
Seasonal allergies, emotional stress, airborne allergens, common colds, or other viral infections tend to make asthma symptoms worse. These symptoms tend to be more severe at night and early morning.
3. Can changes in temperature or humidity trigger asthma symptoms? If so, what happens physiologically, and what types of symptoms show up?
Yes, weather conditions can overlap and have significant interplay. Cold air can cause some constriction of bronchial tubes and exercising in cold air is typically more of a problem for exercise-induced asthma.
In season, trees, grass, and weeds pollinate more in warm vs. cold environments. Dust mites, a very common trigger of allergic rhinitis and asthma, grow much more in humid vs. dry environments.
Additionally, heavy rains and thunderstorms that occur during high pollen and high humidity season can also worsen asthma symptoms.
4. What is allergic asthma? How do patients know they have this?
Allergic asthma refers to asthma that is triggered by allergen exposures such as pollen, pet dander, dust mites, and mold. Patients become aware when exposures are obvious, such as during the spring season or visiting a home with pets. However, it is not always obvious.
Irritants in the environment can also irritate sensitive airways and bring on asthma symptoms, such as:
- Smoke from cigarettes, tobacco, or marijuana products
- Air pollution such as smog or ozone
- Strong fumes, vapors, or odors from paint, gasoline, perfumes, scented personal care products
5. Who is at risk for allergic asthma?
Allergies (allergic sensitivity) and asthma are different things. Not everyone with allergic sensitivities has asthma and vice versa. Most children with asthma have an allergic component. When asthma doesn’t start until adulthood, it is not as common to have allergic triggers, but many do.
6. Can allergic asthma be intensified by factors that cause non-allergic asthma?
All the common triggers including viral infections, allergic exposures, irritant exposures, and exercise can overlap and have significant interplay.
7. What are some less common allergic asthma triggers?
In California, levels of tree and grass pollen in the spring are typically higher and cause more symptoms than weeds that pollinate in the fall. Mold allergies are less common in areas without high humidity.
It’s a good idea to know the things that trigger your allergy and asthma symptoms and learn how to minimize exposure to them. Meet with an allergist to help you properly diagnose and build a treatment plan to manage your condition.