Managing Symptoms of Allergies and Asthma

By Dr. Purvi Parikh, Allergist & Immunologist at NYU Langone

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America 1 in 13 Americans has asthma and 11 die each day from the disease.  This number is rising.

Watery eyes, a runny nose, tightening chest and cough that last for more than two weeks are signs of oncoming allergies and asthma.  Historically, these conditions have held sufferers hostage making it difficult to engage and enjoy daily life activities some of us may take for granted.  Innovative treatments and management solutions are completely reshaping the experience of living with allergies and asthma.

For the individual with acute allergies, there are various pills and sprays that are both prescription and over the counter.  For asthma sufferers reliant on a nebulizer or inhaler, there are now portable solutions such as Flyp nebulizer with all parts contained within the unit making it pocket-sized and easy to use.

To ensure the best possible quality of life for asthma and allergy sufferers, it is equally important to understand and prepare for the many outside factors that can trigger or exacerbate these conditions.  In some cases, these causes are purely environmental: excessive pollen during spring months, humidity or urban air pollution.  In others, the trigger can even be the absence of infectious agents, which can increase susceptibility to allergic diseases by suppressing the natural development of the immune system.  A single one or combination of these factors can also mean the exponential increase in an individual’s susceptibility to acute allergies or asthma.

The two conditions are closely intertwined, with a person’s allergies often being the primary reason for their asthma, and typically the most common cause of an asthma attack.  Triggers vary from person to person, and there is generally a long list of potential ones to avoid.

But how can you tell if you have a bad case of allergies or the onset of an asthma attack?  There are many signs and symptoms a person may exhibit depending on the type of allergy they have.  Common allergic triggers are food, environmental, insect venom, and medications.  All of these can cause a combination of skin, respiratory, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal problems.

Most allergies exhibit some sort of respiratory symptoms, and so there is a strong correlation between the allergic reaction and asthma.  These may include:

stuffy nose, wheezing, itchy or watery eyes, tightening of one’s chest, hives or rash.

Respiratory symptoms are typically triggered by seasonal factors like pollen or hay fever during the spring, summer and fall months, but may also include reactions to mold, dust mites or pet dander. Symptoms specific to mold or dust mites may be exacerbated by heat and humidity. 

Asthma is characterized by swelling or inflammation of the airways in the lungs. Sufferers generally will experience symptoms when the airways constrict or inflame including wheezing, coughing (especially at night), chest tightness, pain or pressure, shortness of breath.

For allergies, skin testing is widely used and most helpful in finding triggers.  For asthma, doctors will perform a pulmonary function test, which determines how well the lungs are working.  Additionally, chest X-rays can identify potential outside factors like infections that could be causing or exacerbating symptoms.

To get a handle on allergy and asthma, the first step is to see a board-certified allergist or immunologist to confirm the diagnosis.  Treatment may be anything from steroids or antihistamine nasal sprays to antihistamine pills or eye drops.  In the case of asthma, inhalers, injections, or pills may be used depending on how severe the problem is. Learning proper use of an inhaler, or a doctor may prescribe a home nebulizer to ensure the medicine is fully reaching your lungs.  Nebulizers tend to have better lung deposition – they get deeper into your lungs – than inhalers.

When necessary, immunotherapy (commonly known as ‘allergy shots’) can lower severity and in some cases cure allergies and asthma fully.

Non-medical intervention can make life are more pleasant as well. Helpful solutions can include keeping bedrooms allergen-free by removing covers or carpets with dust mites, closing windows during peak pollen times, and keeping pets out of the bedroom.  A well-rounded approach to tackling allergies and asthma is the best way to ensure some measure of comfort.

Consult a trusted physician, tweak the physical environment and remain aware of any changes in how you feel.  Breathing is important!

Photo by NIAID