Allergies and asthma are two conditions that overlap. An allergy is when a person has an inflammatory reaction from exposure to a particular substance. Mild allergic responses can include itchy or watery eyes, stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, irritated skin. In severe reactions, difficulty breathing and swelling of the tongue can occur.
Asthma is a chronic lower airway disease that causes difficulty breathing due to narrowing of the airways. It is also an inflammatory disease and can be divided into two main types allergic (extrinsic) or non-allergic (intrinsic).
Triggers for non-allergic type of asthma include anxiety, stress, exercise, cold air, hyperventilation or inhaled irritants such as smoke. For non-allergic asthma, the immune system is not involved in this response.
Allergic asthma is triggered by inhaling an allergen such as dust mites, pet dander or mold. An allergic response to the substance leads to swelling inside the breathing tubes, which narrow them due to inflammation. The body’s immune system gears up to fight the allergen.
“Allergic asthma is the most common form of asthma, affecting over 50% of the 20 million asthma sufferers. Over 2.5 million children under age 18 suffer from allergic asthma,” reported Asthma and Allergy Foundations of America.
Symptoms of asthma, both allergic and non-allergic, are coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and increased breathing rate. A person may not feel all these symptoms each time they have an asthma attack. Symptoms can be mild in some attacks and more severe in others.
A person may also feel early warning signs that an asthma attack is starting. They may start having increased coughing, especially at night, increased shortness of breath or weakness while exercising, difficulty sleeping or symptoms of a cold, upper respiratory infection or allergies.
Diagnosing allergies, asthma or allergic asthma:
In order to diagnosis whether a person has allergies, asthma or allergic asthma, a physician must take a thorough history and physical exam.