Allergies and Asthma: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

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  • 0:02 Allergies and Asthma
  • 0:21 What Is an Allergy?
  • 1:17 What Is Asthma?
  • 2:41 Treating Allergies and Asthma
  • 5:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson explores the meaning of allergies and asthma and how they may interact with one another at the same time. You'll learn about allergic rhinitis, intrinsic asthma and extrinsic asthma as well as the signs, symptoms, and treatment options of each.

Allergies and Asthma

Allergies and asthma - they're not always linked, since asthma can result from non-allergic components, but they do seem to go together like two peas in a pod. This lesson focuses on the allergic-based aspect of asthma, what triggers it, how it makes a person feel, and what treatment options are available and how they work.

What Is an Allergy?

An allergy is technically defined as an overreaction by the body's immune system to a normally harmless substance. It's kind of like people who just completely freak out at the sight of a mouse or bug that's more afraid of the person screaming than the other way around.

Your immune system contains a collection of molecules and cells that release substances to fight off disease. But sometimes, this arsenal of weapons and soldiers is unleashed on completely harmless things. The substances that trigger an allergic reaction are called allergens and include environmental allergens, such as:

  • Dust mites
  • Pollen
  • Mold
  • Pet dander

One problem caused by allergies is allergic rhinitis. Allergic rhinitis is an allergen-induced inflammation of the nasal membranes that results in your stereotypical congestion, itching, and sneezing.

What Is Asthma?

Upwards of 78% of people with asthma have allergic rhinitis. Asthma is defined as chronic airway inflammation, resulting in airway swelling and narrowing and subsequent recurring episodes of coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and breathlessness. It can be brought upon by, not surprisingly, an allergen.

But importantly, there are other factors, non-allergic causes, which can cause asthma, that I do want to mention for completeness's sake. These include:

  • Exercise
  • Respiratory tract infections
  • Cold or dry air
  • Sensitivity to medications
  • Hormonal changes (such as those during pregnancy)
  • Smoke
  • Stress and anxiety

Overall, asthma triggered by an allergic reaction, to things like the environmental allergens I mentioned before, is termed extrinsic asthma. This is in contrast to intrinsic asthma, which is asthma triggered by non-allergic components, like the things I just mentioned: the cold air, exercise, respiratory infections, and so forth.

Asthma affects between five and ten percent of the U.S population. It is more frequently found in children than adults and results in about 2 million emergency room visits every year. So, it's no small problem!

Treating Allergies and Asthma

There is no cure for asthma, and many allergies are also difficult to control. This doesn't mean a person with either or both cannot live a good life; there just has to be appropriate treatment strategies employed to guarantee the highest quality of life possible.

The most obvious thing that anyone can do is to avoid the allergen that is triggering their asthma problem. Of course, this isn't always possible as a result of the person's environment or personal choices, like not wanting to give up a favorite pet.

Therefore, allergy medication, such as antihistamines and corticosteroids, can be used. These two types of medications tell your immune system to calm down. It's like giving an anxiety medication to a person who is overly terrified of certain animals, bugs, or social situations. Except in this instance, we're giving a pill to our immune system to relax it a little bit.

There are medications we can give beyond this, of course, such as nasal decongestants to try and help mitigate the allergic rhinitis. Decongestants help to relieve all that swelling by basically turning off the faucet to the area that is swelling up with fluid. Meaning, the blood vessels there are forced to constrict and close by this medication so that fluid doesn't leak out into the surrounding tissues as a result of the allergic reaction.

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