National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month: How They’re Connected and How You Can Take Control
Ah, spring – a time of new life all around us! Unfortunately, for many people, spring blooming also means a return of itchy eyes, runny noses, and scratchy throats. Yes, it’s “allergy season” once again.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America [AAFA], “as many as 30% of adults and 40% of children” suffer from some kind of allergies, making allergic diseasesone of the most common chronic conditions in the country.
Asthma is less common than chronic allergies in America, affecting between 5-10% of the population according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]. However, because asthma symptoms can be exacerbated by allergies and chronic allergen exposure can lead to asthma, all sufferers of either condition should be aware of the links between them.
Allergies occur when a foreign substance enters the body that your immune system recognizes as a threat. Your body then goes into “defense mode,” releasing histamines, producing mucus, and sending extra fluids to the affected area. These reactions are designed to surround the “invader” and keep it from getting any farther along in your body. Although these reactions are meant to protect us, we experience them as allergy symptoms – sneezing, itching, swelling, runny nose, and watery eyes. These reactions generally occur wherever the irritant came in contact with the body; the skin reacts at the point of contact, food allergies tend to affect the digestive system, airborne allergens irritate the airways, etc.
Asthma is a chronic illness primarily affecting the lungs and trachea, which produce excess mucus and are prone to swelling in sufferers. When asthma symptoms are aggravated, the swelling can cause airways to become too narrow, leading to wheezing and potentially dangerous shortness of breath. While asthma symptoms can be triggered by things like stress or exercise, the most common triggers are the same airborne irritants that cause allergic responses in allergy sufferers.
Airborne allergens like pollen, dust, mold, and pet dander cause irritation of the upper airway, and the AAFA warns that the close relation of the upper and lower airways means that what affects one often affects the other. Untreated chronic allergies can lead to asthma over time; for those who already suffer from asthma, chronic exposure to common allergens can lead to worsening of symptoms.
Therefore, you should take your asthma and allergy symptoms seriously, especially during times when airborne allergens are increased. The AAFA suggests that if you seek treatment for either condition, ask for information about both. Neither condition can be “cured,” but controlling your symptoms is an important ongoing intervention that may prevent more severe illness down the road.
Being aware of the allergens in your environment can help you know when you might need extra treatment. This time of year, that may mean keeping track of local pollen levels. While asthma is relatively rare, the seriousness of the condition makes awareness of symptoms a must, particularly if you suffer from chronic allergies. This toolkit from the CDC provides a great overview of the symptoms and treatment of asthma.
Hudson Physicians offers a variety of immunization services. Whether you are traveling to another country, needing IV therapy, or wanting to stay current on your immunizations, we are here to assist you.