Allergies and Asthma: How to Tell the Difference

allergies and asthma

Are your days or nights filled with sneezing, wheezing or other symptoms? You might have allergies, asthma or even both.

Allergies and asthma are separate diseases, but it's not unusual to suffer from both. The most common type of asthma is found in 60 percent of patients. It's called allergic asthma and is a double-trouble combination of allergies and asthma.

Allergies and asthma are treatable. If you learn where you stand with these two diseases, you and your doctor can take control of your symptoms.

Here's everything you need to know about asthma versus allergies. You'll learn what they are, how they differ, how they are similar and what happens when you have both.

What are Allergies?

More than 50 million Americans suffer from at least one type of allergy each year. Allergies are the sixth most common cause of chronic disease in the United States. They are also the most common children's health problem.

Allergies happen when the body's immune system senses a harmless trigger and overreacts. It rushes to your body's defense by releasing chemicals to combat the supposed threat. Unfortunately, having too many of these defensive chemicals causes allergic symptoms. 

Common allergy triggers include:

  • Foods and food additives
  • Medications
  • Dust mites, cockroaches and insect stings 
  • Latex
  • Mold spores
  • Pet dander and urine
  • Pollen and other seasonal elements
  • Dust 

If you have allergies, one or more of these triggers can cause symptoms in your eyes, sinuses, nose, throat, lungs, stomach and skin. For example, allergies can cause itchy eyes, a runny nose, sneezing, coughing, hay fever, hives or eczema.

What Is Asthma?

More than 25 million Americans have asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An asthma attack happens when airways narrow. The muscles around them grow tighter, and the lining within swells. The airway cells produce thick mucus. These problems make it more difficult to get air in and out of the lungs, which are expanding during this time. People with asthma say it feels like they're not getting enough air.

Asthma involves breathing and other lung-related symptoms, although they vary. The most common symptoms are cough (especially at night), shortness of breath, wheezing and chest tightness. Before an asthma attack, many of these symptoms get worse. Asthmatics may also feel very weak and tired, and they struggle to sleep before an attack.

The Double Whammy: Allergic Asthma

When allergies cause asthma, the disease is called allergic asthma or allergy-induced asthma. For example, a person with a pollen allergy who also gets asthma attacks from pollen has allergic asthma.

Unfortunately, if you have an asthma attack from allergens, then you may also suffer from allergy symptoms at the same time.

You have a higher risk of developing allergic asthma if you have allergies, hay fever or a family history of allergies.

How Allergies and Asthma Are Different

Allergies are twice as common as asthma. Allergy symptoms can vary much more than they do in asthma, which is primarily a breathing problem.

Allergens, which trigger allergies, also trigger allergic asthma. However, some asthmatics' symptoms are not based on the same immune reaction as allergies. Their asthma starts in other situations, such as:

  • Cold air, humidity and fast temperature changes
  • Exercise, especially for children
  • Infections, including viruses
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Stress and strong emotions, such as laughing or crying
  • Strong chemical odors and fragrances

How These Diseases Are Similar

Allergies and asthma can both cause wheezing and coughing, but asthma's hallmark is limiting the ability to breathe. If you sometimes feel you're not getting enough air, talk to your doctor about asthma.

If you know you have asthma but are also getting sinus, eye or other symptoms that allergies would explain, you need to visit your doctor.

Both diseases range widely in severity. Some people find their allergies or asthma to be a minor nuisance, while others face life-threatening reactions.

Both allergies and asthma are not static situations. The severity can change, as can triggers. If you have one or both diseases, you may gain new symptoms over time, or they may go away. The impact of these diseases can change throughout your lifetime.

No matter what your situation looks like now, remember that allergies, asthma and allergic asthma are all treatable.

Treatment: Remove Triggers in Your Environment

Avoiding triggers is the first line of treatment for both diseases. When exposures aren't setting off internal alarms, your immune system will relax.

If seasonal problems like pollen trigger your symptoms, avoid the outdoors and close your windows. You can monitor pollen counts to find the best time of day or week to get outside. When you come back in, change your shoes and clothes and take a shower to help keep your home's air clear.

If mold is a trigger, control the moisture in your home with dehumidifiers. Frequently clean damp areas, such as bathrooms and the basement.

To reduce exposure to multiple triggers, take extra steps to improve indoor air quality. Remove pet dander, pollen and dust by vacuuming carpet, rugs, upholstery and window coverings twice a week. Wash bedding often. Use special pillow and mattress protectors designed to keep dust mites and other allergens away. Consider purchasing an air purifier.

Treatment: Medications for Both Diseases

Asthma and allergy medications can significantly help people keep their symptoms at bay. Common prescriptions include antihistamines, nasal sprays and inhalers.

Some doctors give allergy shots, which expose patients to small amounts of their triggers. These shots can help their bodies build up a tolerance.

If you have allergic asthma, treating your allergies also helps reduce your asthma symptoms.

Find Affordable Prescriptions Online

If you have allergies and asthma, see your doctor regularly to ensure you're getting the best treatment. Your doctor may prescribe medications to better manage your body's reactions to triggers.

If you have any prescriptions, consider ordering them online from a Canadian pharmacy. You may save money, and the medications will conveniently arrive in the mail. Learn how to order from our pharmacy or contact us to learn more.