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Allergic Asthma A to Z

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Are you taking a proactive role in managing your allergic asthma? Knowing the terminology is the first step to helping you better communicate with your healthcare provider to keep your allergic asthma under control.

Allergic asthma is a disease of the lungs in which an allergic reaction to inhaled allergens causes your asthma symptoms to appear. Common inhaled allergens include dust mite allergen, pet dander, pollen, and mold spores.

Blood tests done by your doctor can help determine if you have allergic asthma. Knowing if you have allergic asthma or non-allergic asthma is very important to help your doctor develop the right management and treatment plan for you.

Cascade, often called the allergic cascade, is the name for the series of reactions your immune system goes through after you’ve been exposed to an allergen. At the end of this cascade, your allergy or asthma symptoms appear. That’s why it’s important to know what things trigger your personal allergic cascade so you can avoid and prevent the cascade from ever starting.

Diagnosis of allergic asthma begins with a discussion with your doctor about your medical history, a physical exam that includes a lung function test, and in some cases, a chest or sinus X-ray.

Extrinsic asthma is just another name for allergic asthma, the most common form of asthma, affecting over 10 million people in the United States.

Family history of asthma or allergies is something that doctors look at to help determine if you might have allergic asthma. This disease tends to be more common among people who have a family history of allergies or asthma.

Genetics play a role in asthma. People whose brothers, sisters, or parents have asthma are more likely to develop the illness themselves. If only one parent has asthma, chances are 1 in 3 that each child will have asthma. If both parents have asthma, chances are 7 in 10 that their children will also.

Home environment is a critical factor in managing your allergic asthma. If pet dander, smoke, mold, or other triggers are all over your house, your asthma symptoms are likely to be much worse than if you eliminated these from your home environment.

Immunoglobulin E (IgE) is the name of the antibody that plays a major role in allergic diseases. Your body produces the IgE antibody when it detects an allergen and causes the allergic cascade to begin. New advances in treatment for certain people with allergic asthma include anti-IgE therapy, which blocks IgE and helps to prevent the allergic cascade from staring.

Just because you haven’t used your rescue inhaler lately doesn’t mean your asthma is under control. Learn more about what it means to be in control of your asthma and learn about better ways to talk to your doctor about your asthma at asthmapact.org.

Keeping track of your asthma symptoms can help determine your triggers and prevent future attacks. Create an asthma management plan with your doctor.

Long-term control medicines, or anti-inflammatory drugs, make airways less sensitive. These important medicines help reduce coughing and wheezing and allow you to live an active life without limits.

Mortality rates (death rates) among African Americans who have asthma are three times higher than others. If you’re in this high-risk group, talk to your doctor about more ways to recognize and prevent asthma symptoms so you don’t become a statistic.

Non-allergic asthma (also called intrinsic asthma) is triggered by irritants, not allergens. Many of the symptoms of allergic and non-allergic asthma are the same (coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath or rapid breathing, and chest tightness), but with non-allergic asthma, symptoms are not caused by an allergic reaction.

Occupational asthma is when asthma symptoms are triggered by things related to conditions at your workplace. Symptoms are the same as other types of asthma, but some of the irritants that cause symptoms may be unique to your workplace, such as exposure to certain chemicals, dirt or dust, and vapors. People who work in factories, manufacturing plants, and even bakers who are exposed to airborne flour may show symptoms of asthma.

Peak flow meter is a diagnostic tool to measure how well your lungs are able to expel air. During an asthma flare-up, the large airways in the lungs slowly begin to narrow. A peak flow meter will show the speed of air leaving the lungs to measure the peak expiratory flow.

Quick reliever medications should only be used in emergency situations, such as during an asthma attack. If you are taking long-term controller medications properly, you should almost never need these emergency medicines.

Rhinitis – sneezing, runny nose – may be caused by irritants or allergens, and if not treated, it can lead to difficulty breathing. Nearly half of all those who have asthma also have allergic rhinitis, so make sure you talk with your doctor about avoidance of rhinitis triggers and prevention of symptoms.

Sinusitis is sinus inflammation caused by a bacterial or viral infection or an allergic reaction. More than 50 percent of people with moderate to severe asthma also have chronic sinusitis.

Triggers are different substances that can cause your asthma to act up. Allergic triggers can cause a series of chemical reactions resulting in the constriction and inflammation of the airways in your lungs. Common allergic triggers include pollen, dust mites, mold spores, and pet dander.

Understanding your asthma triggers is a key to controlling your condition. Knowing your triggers can help your doctor make better prevention and treatment recommendations.

Viral respiratory infections – such as head or chest colds – are common among people with asthma; in fact, it’s the number one asthma trigger among kids. Studies show that viral respiratory infections can make asthma symptoms worse for kids and adults. That’s why it’s important to get a flu shot and to protect against cold and flu every year.

Weather changes, cold air, or dry wind can sometimes trigger asthma symptoms. During the hot weather season, outdoor ground-level ozone can be a problem, and people with asthma and allergies should drink plenty of fluids.

X-rays are sometimes used to diagnose allergic asthma.

You’re in control! Don’t let asthma control you. With proper prevention, treatment, and management of your asthma you can live life without limits.

Zoom! Traveling with asthma just means that you have to put a little extra thought and preparation into your trip.

 

Source: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, www.aafa.org

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, March/April 2010.