Asthma & Allergy FAQs
Fighting the disease that affects more than 20 million Americans.
Who gets asthma?
Asthma tends to occur within families. The role of inheritance plays a less clear role in adult-onset asthma. People of any age may have asthma, but more than half the cases are found in children between the ages of 2 and 17. In young children, boys are nearly twice as likely to develop asthma as girls, but this gender difference tends to disappear in older age groups.
There are a wide variety of "triggers" that may initiate an episode of asthma. The most common triggers are allergens, exercise, viral respiratory infections, respiratory irritants and aspirin.
What should be done during an episode?
Always follow the instructions of your allergist. The doctors at the Mississippi Allergy & Asthma Clinic will give patients who have been diagnosed with asthma a plan for both day-to-day management and specific instructions on what to do during an episode. In general, it is important to stay calm and take your prescribed medications. Bronchodilators are the most commonly prescribed drugs to treat an asthma episode. They relax the muscles surrounding the airways, resulting in dilation of the bronchial tubes. Bronchodilators may be inhaled, taken orally or injected.
Is there a cure for asthma?
Though it has long been treatable, a cure for asthma remains elusive. Preventive treatment, however, may minimize the difficulty an individual experiences with asthma. Scientists throughout the world are searching for specific cures.
What’s the best treatment?
Prevention of symptoms is always the best form of treatment. It is important for a patient with asthma to learn what conditions prompt symptoms and avoid them whenever possible. When avoidance is impossible, preventive treatment is desirable. Various forms of preventive therapy are available.
Medications may be started prior to exercise or exposure to environments that predictably produce an attack.
If asthma symptoms are frequent or unpredictable, your allergist may advise you to take medications on a routine basis. Drugs used for this purpose include inhaled steroids, antileukotrienes, cromolyn and related drugs, inhaled or oral beta agonists (some of which are long acting), long-acting theophyllines, or oral steroids. For allergic patients, immunotherapy (allergy shots) may offer relief from allergens that cannot be avoided. Immunotherapy increases a patient's tolerance to the allergens that prompt asthma symptoms and appears to help control the inflammation that underlies chronic asthma.
Tips for patients & parents of asthmatic children…
- Above all else, learn everything you can about asthma;
- Learn what triggers your (your child's) symptoms and avoid them as best you can;
- Recognize the signs of an oncoming episode and learn to judge its severity;
- Provide preventive care so that you or your child have the least amount of difficulty with symptoms;
- Learn self management skills for yourself, and teach your child these skills in an age-appropriate way.
Some allergy problems — such as a mild case of hay fever — may not need any treatment. Sometimes allergies can be controlled with the occasional use of an over-the-counter medication. However, sometimes allergies can interfere with day-to-day activities or decrease the quality of life. Allergies can even be life threatening.
What is an allergy?
One of the marvels of the human body is that it can defend itself against harmful invaders such as viruses or bacteria. But sometimes the defenses are too aggressive and harmless substances such as dust, molds or pollen are mistakenly identified as dangerous. The immune system then rallies its defenses, which include several chemicals to attack and destroy the supposed enemy. In the process, some unpleasant and, in extreme cases, life-threatening symptoms may be experienced in the allergy-prone individual.
What causes allergic reactions?
There are hundreds of ordinary substances that can trigger allergic reactions. Among the most common are plant pollens, molds, household dust (dust mites), cockroaches, pets, industrial chemicals, foods, medicines, feathers and insect stings. These triggers are called "allergens."
Who develops allergies?
Asthma and allergies can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, race or socioeconomic factors. While it's true that asthma and allergies are more common in children, they can occur for the first time at any age. Sometimes allergy symptoms start in childhood, disappear for many years and then start up again during adult life.
Although the exact genetic factors are not yet understood, there is a hereditary tendency to asthma and allergies. In susceptible people, factors such as hormones, stress, smoke, perfume or other environmental irritants also may play a role.
What are the types of allergy problems?
An allergic reaction may occur anywhere in the body but usually appears in the nose, eyes, lungs, lining of the stomach, sinuses, throat and skin. These are places where special immune system cells are stationed to fight off invaders that are inhaled, swallowed or come in contact with the skin.
When should I see an allergist?
Often, the symptoms of asthma or allergies develop gradually over time.
Allergy sufferers may become used to frequent symptoms such as sneezing, nasal congestion or wheezing. With the help of an allergist, these symptoms usually can be prevented or controlled with major improvement in quality of life.
Effectively controlling asthma and allergies requires planning, skill and patience. The allergist, with his or her specialized training can develop a treatment plan for your individual condition. The goal will be to enable you to lead a life that is as normal and symptom-free as possible. A visit to the allergist might include:
- Allergy testing. The allergist will usually perform tests to determine what allergens are involved.
- Prevention education. The most effective approach to treating asthma or allergies is to avoid the factors that trigger the condition in the first place. Even when it is not possible to completely avoid allergens, an allergist can help you decrease exposure to allergens.
- Medication prescriptions. A number of new and effective medications are available to treat both asthma and allergies.
- Immunotherapy (Allergy Shots). In this treatment, patients are given injections every week or two of some or all of the allergens that cause their allergy problems. Gradually the injections get stronger and stronger. In most cases, the allergy problems get less and less over time.
You should see an allergist if:
- Your allergies are causing symptoms such as chronic sinus infections, nasal congestion or difficulty breathing.
- You experience hay fever or other allergy symptoms several months out of the year.
- Antihistamines and over-the-counter medications do not control your allergy symptoms or create unacceptable side effects, such as drowsiness.
- Your asthma or allergies are interfering with your ability to carry on day-to-day activities.
- Your asthma or allergies decrease the quality of your life.
- You are experiencing warning signs of serious asthma such as:
- You sometimes have to struggle to catch your breath.
- You often wheeze or cough, especially at night or after exercise.
- You are frequently short of breath or feel tightness in your chest.
- You have previously been diagnosed with asthma, and you have frequent asthma attacks even though you are taking asthma medication.
More resources on allergies…
The American College of Asthma & Allergy (ACAAI) offers comprehensive information and news on allergy & asthma.