It’s true that allergies and asthma often occur together. The same things that cause allergic reactions such as hay fever – think pollen, dust and pollutants – can also trigger asthma symptoms. And in some cases even skin and food allergies can bring on an asthma attack: something called allergic asthma.
Allergic reactions occur when your body mistakes a harmless substance such as pollen for an invader, and attacks it with antibodies. This can cause symptoms such as a runny nose, itchy skin and nasal congestion. But this allergic reaction can also affect the airways, triggering asthma symptoms too.
The most common type of allergens that can impact your asthma are airborne. Typically that means pollen, but it can also include dust, pollution and even strong smells. While it might not be possible to avoid these allergens completely, you should at least try to avoid them, particularly if you feel symptoms of your asthma developing.
“You should also be aware that the hair from cats and dogs can trigger asthma symptoms,” says Dr Anjanette O Reyes-De Leon, Pediatrician and Asthma & Lung Specialist. At the very least that means you need to clean your house thoroughly, but it may mean that pets need to be kept outdoors.
Even talcum powder can potentially trigger asthma symptoms. So in short, the fewer airborne particles you breathe in, the less likely you are to be affected by asthma resulting from your allergies.
While there’s no evidence of any foods that help relieve asthma symptoms, there are foods that can make potentially them worse. But before we look at them it’s important to understand the difference between an allergy and asthma.
If you are allergic to a food then you should avoid it altogether (based on your doctor’s advice). But it’s possible for a certain food to worsen your asthma symptoms without you actually being allergic to it. What that means is that you should avoid eating it while you’re experiencing asthma symptoms, but you may be perfectly able to enjoy it the rest of the time.
So what are the foods? They include things like egg, chocolate, peanuts, crabs and shrimp. “I normally advise my patients not to eat those foods when they are having an attack,” says Dr Anjanette. “Once the attack has passed I advise to wait for about a week, but then you can go back and enjoy it, unless you are actually allergic to it.”
Do I need to be tested for allergies if I have asthma?
Although there is some crossover between asthma and allergies, they are not the same. It’s possible to have allergies but not suffer from asthma and vice versa. That means that just because you suffer from asthma you don’t necessarily need to be tested for allergies. However, if you do have allergies they can sometimes bring on asthma symptoms. So how do you know when you need to test for allergies?
“Normally I will use controller medications with my patients,” explains Dr Anjanette. Controller medications, also known as preventers, are typically corticosteroids that help reduce inflammation of the airways and prevent an attack.
“If we try that for a while but we’re not seeing an improvement then we will look at allergy testing to see if there’s something in the environment that could be triggering the asthma symptoms.”
If you suspect that potential allergies may be worsening your asthma, speak to your healthcare professional who will be able to advise you and arrange tests if necessary.