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Asthma and Allergy

Due to the close link between asthma and allergy, it can be more difficult to manage your asthma if your allergies are not managed well also. 

What is allergy?

Allergy occurs when a person’s immune system (the body process that protects against disease) reacts to substances in the environment that are usually harmless to most people. These substances are known as allergens. Examples of allergens include house dust mites, pollen, mould, and pet dander. Sensitivity to allergens can often be identified via blood or skin tests.

Other substances such as perfumes, odours, or cigarette smoke can also trigger asthma in some people, but these do not involve a reaction in the person’s immune system. These are called non-allergic irritant triggers, and there are no skin or blood tests for these triggers.

Allergy may run in families. ‘Atopy’ is the genetic or inherited tendency to develop allergic diseases. 

When people with allergic tendencies (atopy) are exposed to allergens, they can develop an immune reaction that leads to allergic inflammation (redness and swelling). 

This can then cause symptoms in the:

  • nose and/or eyes – allergic rhinitis/conjunctivitis (hay fever)
  • skin – eczema, hives 
  • lungs – asthma

 

Asthma and allergy facts

Asthma is a significant health problem in Australia. The number of people with asthma in Australia is high compared to other countries. 

Over 2 million Australians have asthma, that is about 1 in 10 people. Of these, about 80% have allergies like hayfever.

 

What role does allergy play in your asthma?

If you have asthma that is triggered by allergens, you may have asthma symptoms when you:

  • vacuum or dust, as this causes house dust mite allergens to become airborne 
  • visit a house where a pet lives 
  • are outdoors in late spring and early summer, and when there are high levels of pollen in the air
  • are exposed to mould.

It can also be triggered by workplace-related allergens such as flour and grain dust, latex, and animal allergen (e.g. urine, dander).

Because of this close link between asthma and allergy, it can be more difficult to manage your asthma if your allergies are not managed well also.

However, unlike other asthma triggers such as colds and flu, it might be possible to avoid or reduce your exposure to some allergen triggers of your asthma. 

Your doctor, nurse practitioner or pharmacist can help work out if allergy plays a role in your asthma (see Allergy tests).

It will then be possible for your doctor to:

  • advise how to reduce or avoid exposure to your allergies
  • prescribe appropriate medicine
  • determine if immunotherapy is suitable.

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