Asthma and Allergy
- Allergy plays an important role in asthma, as one of the key factors that can cause asthma and make it worse. There are two main ways in which allergy affects asthma:
- Allergy itself can produce the allergic inflammation in the airways; and
- Exposure to one or more allergens can directly trigger an asthma attack.
- Allergy is very common in Australia and New Zealand, affecting around 20% of people. Asthma is also common, affecting around 10% of people. Asthma triggers include allergens, infections, exercise, cold air, changes in temperature and cigarette smoke. Around 80% of people with asthma have positive tests to allergens.
- An allergic reaction occurs when a person’s immune system reacts to substances (allergens) that do not affect most people. This leads to inflammation (redness and swelling) and the following conditions:
- Allergic rhinitis (hay fever)
- Eczema or urticaria (hives)
- Allergies to food, drugs, insects, ticks and other allergens
- Anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction)
- People with asthma experience a narrowing of the airways in the lungs, that obstructs the flow of air into and out of the lungs. This can cause wheezing when breathing out, a persistent cough, difficulty in breathing, shortness of breath, tightness/heaviness in the chest and wheezing/coughing with exercise. Narrowing of the airways can be reversed using medications, so most people with asthma can lead normal, active lives if they take regular preventer medication.
- In some people, pollen allergens can directly trigger asthma as well as allergic rhinitis. For example, in thunderstorm asthma, pollen granules come into contact with water and release granules. These granules are small enough to be breathed directly into the small airways of the lung and trigger asthma attacks.
- If you know that allergy and specific allergens trigger your asthma or make it worse.
- Try to avoid, remove or minimise exposure to confirmed allergens, if possible.
- If you wheeze in Spring or Summer, see your doctor as you may be at risk of thunderstorm asthma.
- Ensure that your allergic rhinitis is treated, as untreated allergic rhinitis can make asthma worse.
- Be prepared for emergency treatment of anaphylaxis if you have asthma and severe food allergies.
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© ASCIA 2018
ASCIA is the peak professional body of clinical immunology/allergy specialists in Australia and New Zealand
Postal address: PO Box 450 Balgowlah NSW 2093 Australia
This document has been developed and peer reviewed by ASCIA members and is based on expert opinion and the available published literature at the time of review. Information contained in this document is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner. Development of this document is not funded by any commercial sources and is not influenced by commercial organisations.
Content updated November 2018