Asthma is a significant health problem for many Australians, with one in ten people suffering from the condition.
According to National Asthma Council Australia, around 80% of those with asthma also have allergies like hay fever. Spring can be a difficult time for those with asthma, as there is often an increased amount of pollen in the air which may trigger allergies and the condition.
In this month’s blog, we take a closer look at the link between asthma and allergies.
What is asthma?
Asthma is a long-term lung disorder that affects the small airways, which are called bronchioles.
People with asthma can react to certain triggers, including allergens, infections, exercise, cold air, changes in temperature and cigarette smoke. These triggers cause a ‘flare-up’, whereby the muscles around the airway squeeze tight, the airways swell and become narrow, and more mucus is produced, making it harder to breathe.
While asthma cannot be cured, it can be effectively managed with an asthma management plan developed in consultation with your GP.
Symptoms of asthma
Asthma symptoms vary from person to person and can vary for individuals over time. However, the most common symptoms of asthma are:
- Difficulty breathing and shortness of breath.
- Wheezing when breathing out.
- A tight and heavy feeling in the chest.
- A continuing cough, particularly at night.
- Wheezing or coughing with exercise or exercise induced asthma.
How do allergies impact on asthma?
Allergens are a known trigger for asthma, whereby the allergy itself can produce inflammation of the airways or exposure to the allergen can trigger an asthma attack.
House dust mites are one of the most common allergic triggers for asthma in Australia. Hay fever is another common allergy for those with asthma, with approximately 80% of people with asthma also suffering from hay fever.
Hay fever can make asthma more difficult to control. People with asthma who also have hay fever are more likely to experience an increase in asthma flare-ups, more visits to their GP, increased asthma-related hospitalisations and more time off work or school.
Those with hay fever and asthma are also susceptible to thunderstorm asthma. Thunderstorm asthma is most common during late Spring to early Summer. It is caused by pollen granules coming into contact with water to release starch granules. These granules are small enough to be breathed into the airways and can cause allergic rhinitis and asthma in some people.
Managing the condition
If allergies are impacting on your asthma, then it’s important to treat your allergy in order to help keep your asthma under control. The first step is to consult with your GP to determine if and how your allergies are playing a role in your asthma and to put in place the right plan and medications to handle your symptoms.
Your GP may also recommend a number of treatment options, which may include intranasal corticosteroid sprays, non-sedating antihistamines, combination medications and allergen immunotherapy.
What is Allergen Immunotherapy?
Allergen Immunotherapy (AIT) is a medical treatment for some types of allergies that involves exposing people to larger and larger amounts of allergen over a period of time (normally 3-5 years) in an attempt to change the immune system’s response.
How does Allergen Immunotherapy work?
Allergen Immunotherapy involves an initial evaluation by your GP of your allergy history, followed by a skin prick test to determine the cause of your allergy.
If it is determined that your allergy is caused by either grass seeds and/or dust mites, your doctor may then advise Allergen Immunotherapy. This will involve the administration of gradually increasing doses of the allergen over a period of time to de-sensitise you to your specific allergen.
Allergic Immunotherapy has been shown to reduce asthma symptoms, including coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.
This type of treatment may help to improve a person’s quality of life and reduce the progression from allergic rhinitis to asthma.
Illawarra Medical Centre is able to offer Allergen Immunotherapy
to patients suffering from allergies caused by grass seeds and dust mites.
To make a booking with one of our GPs to discuss your allergies and asthma and available treatment options,
go to our online bookings page or contact us on (08) 9208 6400.
To find out more about our allergy services, visit our Allergen Treatments page>>
For more information on this topic, visit:
- Asthma Australia – https://www.asthmaaustralia.org.au/national/about-asthma/manage-your-asthma/triggers/asthma-and-hay-fever
- Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ascia) – https://www.allergy.org.au/patients/asthma-and-allergy
- Healthy WA – https://www.healthywa.wa.gov.au/Health-conditions/Asthma
- National Asthma Council Australia – https://www.nationalasthma.org.au/living-with-asthma/resources/patients-carers/brochures/asthma-allergy