Surviving Allergies and Asthma

Allergies and asthma are often partners in crime. With pollen production now in high gear, here are some things you should know, including who to see and where to go if you need treatment.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, an estimated 60% of approximately 25 million asthma cases in the U.S. are allergy related, making it the most common type of asthma. Other kinds include:

  • Non-allergic/Exercise-induced, which occurs during or after physical activity (see our Understanding Exercise-Induced Asthma blog for more)
  • Aspirin-induced, caused by a sensitivity to non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen
  • Cough-variant, where the chief or even the only sign is a constant dry cough that never produces mucus or phlegm
  • Thunderstorm asthma, which is a form of asthma that occurs when stormy winds and rain break pollen grains into particles small enough to be inhaled into airways (read A Perfect Storm in the Winter 2017 edition of Emory Medicine magazine for more)

What Is Asthma?

Regardless of the type or cause, asthma is a disease where the airways in the lungs get inflamed and narrow, making it hard to breathe. Allergic asthma is set off by substances that are usually harmless, but in people with allergies, their immune system attacks them as an invading threat.

Common allergens that trigger asthma:

  • Pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds – notably, ragweed, ryegrass, oak, maple, elm, mulberry and – a southern favorite – pecan
  • Animal dander (tiny flakes of skin shed off by pets)
  • Mold spores
  • Cockroaches and dust mites (more accurately, the feces and body parts they leave behind)

Asthma Symptoms

Whether caused by allergies, exercise, stress, colds and flu, or other irritants, asthma signs are about the same:

  • Coughing (with a cough that’s usually dry and persistent)
  • Wheezing (a whistling sound when you breath)
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Rapid breathing
  • Tightness in the chest

It’s important to recognize and treat the above signs to prevent a more severe asthma attack.

Symptoms of a Severe Asthma Attack

Call 911 or immediately go to the nearest emergency room if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Not being able to catch your breath, even when you’re sitting still
  • No relief or improvement after using a rescue inhaler
  • Problems walking, talking or any other typical activity
  • Loss of color, or blue coloring, in your face, lips or nails
  • Breathlessness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Exhaustion
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Increased heart rate
  • Swelling of your face, eyes, tongue, as well as your hands or feet
  • The skin between your ribs sucks in

Know Where to Go

If you think you have asthma, it’s important to see a physician for testing and diagnosis. Your primary care physician (PCP) can help manage mild and occasional asthma attacks with either Quick Relief or Long-Term Control medication.

But, if your symptoms are more frequent, moderate or severe, a PCP can help connect you with the right specialist, such as an allergist or pulmonologist. Your PCP and specialist should work together with you to keep episodes to a minimum. If you need care or prescriptions renewed and can’t get to your PCP, urgent care centers and MinuteClinics can provide help with asthma and help get allergies under control.

It also bears repeating: If you have severe symptoms or are concerned your life is in danger in any way, immediately call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

Have questions or need to find the right care? Call your family doctor or the Emory HealthConnection to speak to an Emory nurse at 404-778-7777.

To find Emory Healthcare providers near you, please visit

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