What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic and potentially life-threatening lung disease in which airways become inflamed and/or swollen, making it hard to breathe. An estimated 20 million Americans suffer from asthma. Of these, 10 million - including three million children - suffer specifically from allergic asthma.

What are common symptoms of asthma?

  • Cough

  • Chest tightness

  • Shortness of breath

  • Wheezing

What are common triggers of asthma?

  • Allergens

  • Irritants such as tobacco smoke, strong odors

  • Weather changes

  • Viral or sinus infections

  • Exercise

  • Reflux disease (Stomach acid flowing back up the esophagus, or food pipe)

  • Medications

  • Foods

  • Emotional anxiety

What is allergic asthma?

Allergic asthma is the most common form of asthma. Many of the symptoms of allergic and non-allergic asthma are the same (coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath or rapid breathing and chest tightness). However, allergic asthma is triggered by inhaling allergens such as dust mites, pet dander, pollens, mold, etc. Through a complex reaction, these allergens then cause the passages in the airways of the lungs to become inflamed and swollen. This results in coughing, wheezing and other asthma symptoms.

What causes allergic asthma?

Allergens are identified as a key cause of allergic asthma. But the real culprit in causing allergic asthma is the IgE antibody. The IgE antibody is produced by the body in response to allergen exposure. The combination of the IgE antibody with allergens results in the release of potent chemicals called mediators. The mediators cause the inflammation and swelling of the airways, resulting in the symptoms of asthma. This makes the antibody IgE the root cause of allergic asthma.

How is asthma diagnosed and treated?

It is important for people with asthma to seek treatment from an allergy and asthma specialist. We will check your pulmonary function and identify your allergic triggers. We will develop a plan to help you avoid these allergens. Sometimes, allergens cannot be totally avoided. Allergy immunotherapy (allergy shot) is very effective in treatment of allergic asthma. Another way for you to control allergic asthma is to take a medication that binds IgE and prevents it from setting off the inflammatory response.

Patients who have more severe asthma may have to take an inhaled medication with steroid to control the chronic inflammation in their airways. Sometimes with a severe asthma flare up, a short course of oral steroids may have to be used. All asthmatic patients have to carry an emergency inhaler without steroid at all times, to open up their airways quickly in a case of an asthma flare up.

If you have asthma, come and visit your allergy and asthma specialist – we can help!

--- By Dr. Anlin Xu