Allergies and Asthma

You Have Allergies. Will You Also Develop Asthma? Allergies and Asthma

Allergies and asthma are a growing problem. Asthma is a HUGE problem in this country, and around the world. And asthma is a growing problem: besides HIV and Tuberculosis, Asthma is the only chronic disease that has an increasing death rate.  In the US, 34 Million people will be diagnosed with asthma in their lifetimes. That number is predicted to be 100 Million by the year 2025.

Geez. A hundred million here, a hundred million there … before you know it, you’re talking a lot of people!

Take a look at one of my previous articles, 12 Startling Facts About Asthma for information about asthma, and here are more Facts About Allergic Rhinitis.

But the growing epidemic of asthma is not the focus of this article.

Nor is this article about the Unified Airway, and how that connects the nose, the lungs, etc. (you can read more about that in my articles on the Unified Airway).

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This article is about the connection between Allergic Rhinitis and Asthma.

Specifically, can that connection can be used to reduce asthma??

Of course, there IS A CONNECTION between allergic rhinitis and asthma.

The majority of people (including children) with asthma also have allergic rhinitis.

Worse: it is reported that about one-third of people with allergic rhinitis will develop asthma within 10 years. It’s even greater for children.

So the question arises: if you successfully treat allergic rhinitis, does it make your asthma better? (And by “make your asthma better” I mean, of course, REDUCE your asthma, not “improve” it).

Even more important: if you successfully treat allergic rhinitis, can you avoid developing asthma?

Let’s just get right to the punchline: the answer is YES. And YES.  Smile. 

Here’s how …

What if Asthma Already Exists?

If you already have a confirmed diagnosis of asthma, there is still hope to reduce it. Without inhalers and steroids. Really.

Studies, many of them, high-quality medical studies, have found that allergy immunotherapy (“allegy shots”) can reduce allergic rhinitis in 80%, and – this is huge – can reduce asthma in nearly 70%!! Cool. (Articles listed in Resources, below.) Can’t handle shots? Keep reading for the alternative allergy immunotherapy, below.

In addition, there are good studies suggesting that, once asthma has been diagnosed, both mind-body control (Can Your Child THINK Away Their Asthma?) and acupuncture (Breathe Easier With Acupuncture) can help.

scanning electron micrograph of pollen (colorized)

Image: scanning electron micrograph of pollen (colorized)

What About PREVENTING Asthma?

In 17 people with allergic rhinitis, treated with allergy immunotherapy, NONE of them developed asthma during the 6 years of follow up (See study by Jacobsen in Resources). That’s pretty impressive, even though it was a small study of only 17 people.

In another study, this one in children, two years of allergy immunotherapy prevented children from developing asthma (see study by Valloviirrtta in Resources). These results were corroborated in a European study, also.

Immunotherapy for Allergies

So, exactly what is this “immunotherapy,” you may be asking. Well, think of it like an allergen vaccine. In fact, that is how the World Health Organization recommends that we describe allergy shots – as an allergen vaccine.

It is essentially a personalized vaccine that is made up from the allergens that we are allergic to. It can be delivered just underneath the skin (Sub-Cutaneous Immuno-Therapy, or SCID), or under the tongue (Sub-Lingual Immuno-Therapy, or SLIT). It alters the response of our immune system to further exposure to those allergens, ultimately reducing our allergy symptoms. And reducing our asthma symptoms, and our need for inhalers, steroids, and rescue visits to the ER. And, ultimately reducing our chances of developing asthma if we don’t already have it. Cool.

Allergy Testing

Of course, you may not actually HAVE allergies – see my article on When Your Allergic Rhinitis is NOT Allergic for a review on the possibilities. So the first step is to confirm the diagnosis: confirm that you (or your child) actually HAVE allergies, and that what you are allergic to can be identified. See my article on Allergy Testing: How They Do It for more information on testing.

So, if you or your little boogor-head has uncontrolled asthma, and especially if they have chronic or seasonal nasal congestion, think about getting them tested. No, go further than just thinking about it. Get them allergy tested! It may lead to a life without inhalers, a life without steroids, and a life without visits to the Emergency Department. It could change your life. It changed mine. Just sayin.

Of course, don’t miss the possibility that gastro-esophageal reflux (GERD) may be contributing to your child’s asthma.

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Resources

Image Credit: Image of pollen, used under Creative Commons License, public domain, ,from Dartmouth Electron Microscope Facility: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Misc_pollen_colorized.jpg

Source of Data:
Malling HJ. Immunotherapy as an effective tool in allergy treatment. Allergy. 1998;53:461-472.
Moller et al. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2002;109:251-256.
Lombardi C. Respir Med . 2001;95:9-12.
Jacobsen L. Allergy. 1997;52:914-920.
Valloviirrtta E. J Investig Allergol Clin Immunol . 1997;7:369-370.
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Hi, I’m Russell Faust, author of this medical education blog.

Dr. Faust and friend

Dr. Faust and friend

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Comments

  1. This makes a lot of sense to me but I had a question. If sinus irrigation, neti etc can help improve allergic rhinitis then should they not also help with asthma.
    Another way it might help is that if the nose opens up when rhinitis symptoms are cured …children are more likely to breathe through their nose and the lungs will get more humidified and filtered air. What has been your experience?

    • Russell A. Faust, PhD, MD says:

      Hi Monika,

      I like the way you’re thinking!
      Yes – reducing rhinitis clearly helps reduce asthma symptoms, and use of asthma medications. In my experience, one of the best ways to reduce rhinitis is saline nasal rinses.
      Thanks for visiting, and for taking the time to leave a comment.

      RF

  2. Hi Dr Faust,
    I have been lately reading about asthma and allergies being compounded/caused by chronic dehydration. What is your opinion regarding that? Is that a reasonably backed argument – has it been talked about among integrative medicine practitioners?

    Thanks for sharing such awesome information.

    Best,

    • Russell A. Faust, PhD, MD says:

      Hi Monika,
      Great question.
      The primary issue with dehydration is the drying – “inspissation” – of the secretions. That is, the less well hydrated you are, the thicker the mucus secretions in your airway. The thicker they are, the more difficult those secretions are for your normal clearance mechanisms to work properly. That, in turn, causes things that are in our air (viruses, particulate pollutants, bacteria, mold spores) to accumulate instead of being cleared. The result? Sinusitis. Bronchitis. Worsening asthma. Worsening allergies.
      That’s a long way of saying, “yes”, chronic dehydration will make asthma (and most other respiratory disorders) worse.
      Just one more reason to stay well-hydrated.
      Thanks for visiting, thanks for reading, and thanks for sharing your curiosity.
      Please tell your friends about the site!
      RF

  3. Hi. I am currently undergoing sublingual immunotherapy for allergic rhinitis (hayfever and dustmite – a double whammy!) As this treatment is fairly new I am documenting my own experience. Russ has suggested I post a link to my Facebook page so that people here who may be interested in sharing my journey can follow my experience. I hope to meet you there: https://www.facebook.com/myhayfevertreatment?ref=hl

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