Defining Asthma and Allergies

By Stacey Daniels, RN Manager

Do allergies cause asthma? The answer to this question is: yes and no. Asthma and allergies often go hand-in-hand. People who have certain kinds of allergies may be more prone to asthma. The types of allergies that are often linked to asthma are usually those that affect your nose and eyes, causing a runny nose or red, itchy eyes.

Things that cause allergic reactions, such as pollen or dust mites, can also trigger symptoms of asthma. But, not everyone who has allergies develops asthma and not all cases of asthma are related to allergies.

Asthma is a disease of the branches of the windpipe (bronchial tubes), which carry air in and out of the lungs. About 23 million people in the United States have asthma. Of these, about 70% have an allergy to something. Common allergens include dust mites, mold, pollen, and animal dander.

What Are the Most Common Symptoms of Asthma?

Air is normally taken into the body through the nose and windpipe and into the bronchial tubes. At the end of the tubes are tiny air sacs called alveoli that deliver fresh air (oxygen) to the blood. During normal breathing, the bands of muscle surrounding the airways are relaxed. But during an asthma episode, or “attack,” there are changes that stop air from moving freely into the airways, making breathing more difficult. The bands of muscle that surround the airways tighten, causing “bronchospasm.” The airways also become swollen or inflamed, and the airways produce a thick mucus. As a result, people with asthma feel they cannot get enough air.

Some people can go a long time between episodes while others have symptoms every day. Not every person with asthma has the same symptoms, and symptoms may vary during episodes. Common symptoms of asthma include:

  • Frequent cough, especially at night
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness, pain, or pressure

If you have asthma, it’s wise to determine whether allergies may be triggering your symptoms. Limiting your exposure to allergens may be key to controlling your asthma. If you can’t completely limit your exposure to an allergen, your doctor may recommend a visit to an allergist or recommend allergy shots.

As always, if you have concerns or questions, talk with your doctor.