Allergic Asthma: Triggers, Symptoms and What to Do

If you’re worried about allergic asthma, you’ve come to the right place for information on the causes, symptoms and treatments. You will also find tips on how to manage allergic asthma triggers in your home and daily life.

Allergies are a common feature of asthma. Half of adults with asthma, and eight in ten children with the condition, have allergic asthma. Many people who have allergic asthma also have hay fever, eczema or food allergies.

What is allergic asthma?

We don’t fully understand the causes of asthma, but we do know that it can run in the family.

We also know that asthma symptoms can be set off by what we call triggers. These are factors in your environment, and it is where allergic asthma comes in.

Is allergic asthma the same as asthma?

Asthma is different for every individual – you can have just one trigger, or many. These triggers can include cold weather, exercise, stress or an illness like a cold or the flu.

When you have allergic asthma, which is sometimes called allergy-induced asthma, the trigger is exposure to a substance called an allergen.

If you have an allergy, your immune system mistakes the allergen for a threat that must be destroyed and goes into overdrive. This causes inflammation and the symptoms of asthma.

Some the most common allergens include:

  • Pets
  • Dust mite droppings
  • Cockroach droppings
  • Mould
  • Pollen

For a few people, a food allergy can also trigger asthma symptoms.

What are the symptoms?

The common symptoms of allergic asthma are:

  • Wheezing
  • A tight chest
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing, especially at night, when you exercise or when you laugh
  • Feeling short of breath.

Asthma is not something you can diagnose yourself and treatment is important, so if these signs of asthma appear, please see your doctor. Some people experience severe asthma or  frequent attacks, while for others it can be infrequent and less troublesome. But there is no such as thing as ‘mild’ asthma – it always needs medical assessment.

If you have allergic asthma, you may also have other non-asthma symptoms when you are exposed to the allergen that is causing it. Your eyes may feel red and sore. You may have a runny or congested nose, sneezing, itching or a rash.

With a food allergy, you could get an itchy or swollen mouth, stomach pain, diarrhoea, nausea or vomiting. Some people feel dizzy or faint.

A severe allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis. It becomes very difficult to breathe, and you can have a fast heart rate, feel sweaty and even lose consciousness. This is a life-threatening situation and emergency medical assistance is needed.

Medical treatments

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as an asthma cure. However, the symptoms can be managed with very effective asthma treatments.

Once you have been diagnosed with asthma, your nurse or doctor should help you draw up an asthma action plan. This outlines what medicines you should take and when to take them. It will also tell you what to do in an emergency.

There are two main parts to asthma treatment:

  • A preventer medicine that helps to reduce inflammation over time. Taking your preventer inhaler as prescribed is the best protection against allergic asthma, as your lungs will be better able to cope with an allergen if you come across one.
  • A rescue or reliever inhaler is to be used when you experience asthma symptoms. It’s important to keep this inhaler with you all the time, so you can take it right away when needed.

Some inhalers combine a preventer and reliever medicine.

People with severe asthma may be offered treatment with regular injections, tablets, or a nebuliser machine that delivers the medication in an inhaled mist. You will find more details in our guide to asthma treatments.

Breathing exercises, especially if supervised by a qualified clinician, may also help you to manage your condition. These exercises are used alongside asthma medicines, not as a substitute.

Asthma treatment is not just a one-off – you should be invited for regular asthma reviews with your nurse or doctor. It is a great opportunity to talk about your symptoms and treatment, and decide whether any changes are needed.

How to treat allergic asthma at home

Asthma is not something you can fix yourself and it always needs medical advice. Taking your asthma treatment as prescribed is your first line of defence. However, reducing your exposure to the allergens that trigger your asthma symptoms can help you to better manage your symptoms.

Asthma and pet allergies

People talk about an allergy to dog hair or cat hair, but the real culprit is dander. These flakes of skin that come off your pet can cause an allergic reaction. The proteins in your animal’s urine, faeces, saliva or feathers can also do this.

There are a few things you can try to help:

  • Keep your pet outside as much as possible, and out of your bedroom
  • Ask someone else to bathe and groom your pet
  • Cleaned your pet’s bed or cage regularly, as well as any soft furniture they spend time on.

If you think you’re allergic to an animal, ask your doctor to order or refer you for an allergy test so you can be sure. If you are allergic, your doctor or nurse can incorporate management tips into your asthma plan.

There’s more detail on managing the symptoms, testing and reducing your exposure, in our information on pet allergies.

Allergic asthma and dust mites

Dust mites are microscopic insects that are found in every home that like to live in soft furnishings, carpets, curtains and bedding. Their droppings are a common cause of allergies and allergic asthma.

You can’t eliminate dust mites, but you may find it helpful to:

  • Have hard flooring instead of carpets
  • Vacuum regularly
  • Keep rooms well aired
  • Wash laundry at 60 degrees Celsius
  • Use dust mite covers on the bed.

If your child has an allergy to dust mites, you can put soft toys in the freezer to kill the dust mites, then wash them.

The scientific evidence is not unanimous, so we can’t say for sure how far housekeeping measures can make a difference. Some methods take a lot of effort and can be expensive, so don’t be hard on yourself if it doesn’t help as much as you’d hoped.

One pest that can be well controlled is cockroaches: their droppings can also trigger allergic asthma. You can avoid attracting them by keeping your kitchen clean – don’t let dirty dishes or uncovered food sit out very long. If you do have cockroaches, try to exterminate them as soon as possible.

Mould and and allergic asthma

Mould is a type of fungus and it releases spores that can cause an allergic reaction, including asthma. If you experience allergy symptoms across several seasons, you could be sensitive to mould.

Outdoors, mould likes to grow on rotten logs, leaves, grass and compost heaps. It’s therefore a good idea to wear a dust mask when you are cutting the grass or doing other outdoor chores where you might disturb plant material.

In the house, mould thrives in damp places like bathrooms, kitchens and cellars. You should keep your home well ventilated, fix leaks straight away and maintain your drainage.

If you think you are allergic to mould, talk to your doctor, who may recommend a test for this.

Asthma and pollen allergies (hay fever)

The pollen from trees, grass or weeds can cause allergy symptoms, including asthma. If you are allergic to pollen, ask your doctor or pharmacist if you should take antihistamine tablets or a steroid nasal spray. It is helpful to start taking them before pollen season.

It also makes sense to avoid your exposure to pollen as far as is practical. You will find many useful tips plus additional treatments in our article on pollen allergies.

Information and support

You will find a wealth of further information about allergies and asthma on our website, and we hope you will explore it. You can also get in touch with us – we would love to hear from you!