World Asthma Day: An Allergy Perspective
Yesterday, May 1, was World Asthma Day, organized by the Global Initiative for Asthma to bring awareness about the prevalence of asthma in the world. This year’s theme was “never too early, never too late” which is something we support in allergy and asthma treatment alike. Approximately eighty percent of asthma sufferers also have allergic triggers, adding more inflammation and complications. Dr. Chet Tharpe, board certified allergist at Allergy Associates of La Crosse, explains the connection between asthma and allergy and what those who suffer from asthma really need to know, from the allergy perspective.
What is asthma?
Dr. Tharpe explains that, “Asthma is just inflammation of the lungs. When people think of allergy, most of the time they think of itchy, runny and stuffy symptoms in the nose or eyes. For many, asthma is that, but it’s going on in the lungs with swelling and mucus production limiting airflow and causing shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness or cough.” While allergy symptoms often present in the eyes, nose or sinuses, asthma can be a result of what’s going on in your lungs, allergy-wise.
“If you think about it, you are breathing in these things that you’re allergic to – dust mites, animals, molds, pollens – most people have symptoms in their nose and eyes, but a lot of people also have symptoms in their lungs,” he explains.
Symptoms of asthma are typically:
- At night
- During play
- With exertion
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
“When people think of asthma, they usually think of huffing and puffing, wheezing, going to the emergency room, not being able to catch their breath; that’s asthma that kind of hits you in the face,” Dr. Tharpe explains. “But there’s also subclinical asthma where something just doesn’t feel right.” He says that these more “subtle” symptoms can range from cough, shortness of breath or feeling easily fatigued during play, at night, or with exertion and should be taken just as seriously as the obvious symptoms some feel.
When pollens are flying through the air during allergy season, asthma symptoms are often triggered. Dr. Tharpe explains that allergy isn’t the only cause of a symptom flare up, but things like perfumes or chemicals, infections, cold exposure and exertion can cause them, too. If you’re having symptoms often, or end up in the emergency room or primary care provider’s office more than once a year because of these symptoms, Dr. Tharpe suggests being evaluated for asthma as soon as possible.
Being evaluated is very important because leaving asthma untreated can lead to many complications. Dr. Tharpe explains that over time your lungs can “remodel” if asthma is left untreated – leaving them to not work at their full potential, and could eventually lead to complications like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Being evaluated and treated for your asthma can prevent this remodeling and keep your lungs healthy for years to come.
There is also a growing body of research that suggests treating allergy early in life can potentially prevent asthma from developing later on. A patient study at Allergy Associates of La Crosse showed a markedly reduced incidence of asthma developing among patients who had been treated with allergy drops using the La Crosse Method™ Protocol. The study patients included those whose key allergic markers suggested, according to clinical and research data, that they would likely develop asthma if left untreated.
“The great thing about asthma is that it’s a reversible condition, meaning once you get that inflammation under control, by taking certain medications and allergy drops to build allergic tolerance, symptoms can go away,” Dr. Tharpe says. Taking the initiative to be treated for asthma, and underlying allergy can lessen symptoms and prevent remodeling. It’s highly important to start treatment to prevent this remodeling and preserve normal lung function.
After being evaluated by an allergist or pulmonologist, you can follow their recommendations for reducing your asthma symptoms. This guidance is crucial for getting into your normal routine, the one before asthma symptoms took over.
Know that medications aren’t a life sentence
Dr. Tharpe says that many patients think that asthma medications are a life sentence, and that makes them hesitant to use them at all. Whether its inhalers, other medications, or allergy drops, they will only be taken until inflammation decreases and the asthma symptoms are under control.
“Allergy drops using the La Crosse Method Protocol can change your immune response, so they change the way your body reacts to the allergen. If your body doesn’t overreact to the allergen, then the inflammation and thus symptoms will be less,” he explains. Less inflammation means less asthma and allergy symptoms, and less medication.
“If it’s an allergic cause, which is the case for the vast majority of asthma sufferers, the drops may take care of it over time, decreasing your symptoms and thus your need for medications. It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight, though,” he explains. Patients are typically on immunotherapy for three to five years and work to build tolerance toward the offending allergen.
Listen to your body
Listening to your body is most important when dealing with asthma. Paying attention to when symptoms arise, possible triggers, and how you feel during these bouts will help to best determine how to treat the disease.
While asthma can surely seem like a big burden to bear, Dr. Tharpe says that asthma isn’t an excuse to stop exerting yourself because it is treatable “A lot of people say ‘I can’t do it because I have asthma.’ Well, you can do it, and you probably should do it,” Dr. Tharpe says.
“People will protect themselves to the point where they just won’t do anything that triggers their asthma including exercise or going outdoors. These avoidance practices can lead to a poorer quality of life, increased stress and obesity which can worsen asthma in itself,” he explains. “The goal of treatment is to control this inflammation so that an asthmatic can do most anything anyone else can along with the prevention of lung remodeling over time.”
Listening to your body will help you determine what causes your asthma and therefore, how to best treat it. Asthma doesn’t have to be a limiting factor in your life. Learn more about allergy drops and how they can help those who suffer from allergy-induced asthma.
By Taylor Pasell, Allergychoices