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Can allergies trigger an asthma attack?

An allergy can cause an asthma attack, sometimes in people who hadn't been diagnosed with asthma before.

Allergic asthma is a type of asthma triggered by an allergy, often to pollen or mould spores.

Asthma UK says 72% of people it questioned who experience hayfever symptoms also said it worsened their asthma.

When to seek medical advice

If a person starts to experience asthma symptoms with allergies, they should seek medical advice. The condition can be diagnosed and triggers identified.

The next step is to treat the asthma and help to prevent triggers.

How an allergic asthma attack happens

Asthma and allergies often go hand-in-hand. Asthma is a disease of the branches of the windpipe (bronchial tubes), which carry air in and out of the lungs. There are several different types of asthma.

Allergic asthma is a type of asthma triggered by an allergy, for example, to pollen or mould spores. 

Air is 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 oxygen to the blood. The air sacs also collect carbon dioxide, which is exhaled out of the body. During normal breathing, the bands of muscle surrounding the airways are relaxed and air moves freely. But during an asthma episode or attack, there are three main changes that stop air from moving freely into the airways:

Asthmatic Bronchioles

  • The bands of muscle surrounding the airways tighten, causing them to narrow in what is called bronchospasm.
  • The lining of the airways becomes swollen, or inflamed.
  • The cells that line the airways produce more mucus, which is thicker than normal.

The narrowed airways trap carbon dioxide in the lungs. As a result, people with asthma feel they cannot get enough air into the lungs. All of these changes make breathing difficult.

What are the most common symptoms of asthma?

Symptoms strike when your airways undergo the three changes described above. Some people can go a long time between asthma episodes while others have some symptoms every day. Common symptoms of asthma include:

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

Asthma medicines and rescue inhalers

Asthma medicines are often taken by using inhalers to deliver the drug into the airways through the mouth.

Inhalers may be rescue inhalers, or relievers, to help with symptoms once they've started or preventers to try to ward off problems before they begin.

What else should I do to help control my asthma?

It's also important to keep track of how well your lungs are functioning. Asthma symptoms are monitored using a peak flow meter - a device that measures the maximum amount of air that comes out of your lungs when you exhale forcefully. This measurement is the peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) and is calculated in litres per minute.

The meter can alert you to changes in the airways that may be a sign of worsening asthma before you have symptoms. By taking daily peak flow readings you can learn when to adjust medications to keep asthma under good control. Your doctor can also use this information to adjust your treatment plan.

Can asthma be cured?

There's no cure for asthma, but it can be treated and controlled. In most cases, people with asthma can live free of symptoms by following their treatment plan.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on October 07, 2015

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