Asthma on top of allergies? It happens…

It’s no secret that seasonal allergies and asthma cause similar symptoms. But when they occur together, it’s like a one-two punch for those who suffer from either condition.

If you’re prone to seasonal allergies, you know that substances like pollen can trigger hay fever. If you suffer from sneezing due to pet dander or mold, rashes due to skin sensitivities, or hives from eating certain foods, these allergies may also cause asthma symptoms.

This condition – allergy-induced asthma, also known as allergic asthma – can be a real problem for people who already struggle with breathing challenges. If you, your parents, or your siblings suffer from allergies, you’re at increased risk for developing allergic asthma – a common condition in people of all ages.

Allergic reactions and asthma symptoms – what’s going on here?

When flowers, plants, grass and trees start to bud and bloom in the spring, they release pollen into the air that floats for a bit before falling to the ground. When you spend time outdoors, it’s inevitable that you’ll breathe in pollen or get it in your eyes, hair and on your clothes. You can even track it into your house on your shoes. Pollen is harmless, of course unless you have allergies.

For allergy sufferers, pollen is an unseen enemy. When they inhale, ingest or touch pollen, their body senses it’s under attack and mounts a fierce defense. The immune system works to fend off the pollen by sending antibodies to fight the allergen. This releases chemical compounds called histamines in their quest. It’s these chemicals that cause the symptoms that make allergy sufferers so uncomfortable. The most common symptoms are sneezing, itchy and red eyes, nasal congestion or nasal discharge (aka runny nose). For some people, symptoms impact the lungs and airways, producing symptoms of asthma.

Seasonal allergy medications

There are countless allergy medications on the market, available in pills, sprays, drops and shots. If you suffer from mild seasonal allergies, you likely have your go-to over the counter (OTC) treatment. But for many people, OTC products don’t provide enough relief and they need something stronger. If you’re not getting relief from your usual medication, it’s time to explore some new options.

The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology offers these guidelines about when to talk to a healthcare professional about prescription-strength allergy relief:

  • You have allergy symptoms year-round or for several months each year.
  • You suffer from chronic sinus infections or ongoing nasal congestion.
  • Your usual OTC medication makes you too drowsy to work, drive, or think clearly.
  • Allergies are making you miserable and reducing your quality of life.
  • You’re having allergy-induced asthma symptoms like wheezing, chest discomfort and difficulty breathing.

Some medications help with both allergies and asthma

For folks who suffer from allergic asthma, there are several medications that can save the day.

Allergy shots (aka immunotherapy)

Preventive injections are a long-term commitment, with regular treatments over 3 to 5 years. You’ll need to see an allergist first for skin or blood tests to determine your allergy triggers. Then the allergist will give you shots on a regular basis at an in-office visit. Each shot contains just a small amount of whatever allergen has been found as the cause of your symptoms. With each treatment, your immune system’s response to the allergen lessens. You build up a tolerance to the allergens, your reactions are less severe, and your symptoms diminish too.

Anti-leukotrienes or leukotriene modifiers

One example of an anti-leukotriene is Singulair (montelukast sodium), which works by controlling inflammation-causing chemicals called leukotrienes that are released during an allergic reaction. Available as a daily pill, anti-leukotrienes can help with both allergy and asthma symptoms.

Anti-immunoglobulin E (IgE) therapy

These medications are often prescribed for people with persistent or severe asthma, and are used with other drugs to better manage severe asthma symptoms. They work by preventing your immune system from releasing antibodies (known as IgE), which in turn cause inflammation in the lungs. Given by injection, these are some of the most common medications used for IgE therapy. Here is one such drug:

  • Omalizumab (Xolair)

Asthma relief and control with asthma drugs

There are some medications intended primarily for non-allergic asthma management and control. One such drug is Proventil (albuterol), which is administered through an inhaler, also known as a rescue inhaler.

When you suffer an asthma attack, or are having trouble breathing, an inhaler can come to your immediate rescue and stop an asthma attack in its tracks, relaxing the airway muscles so that air can flow to the lungs. These medications begin to work within minutes and provide long-lasting relief – typically for 4 to 6 hours.

Be aware of possible side effects

As with any medication, misuse or overuse can lead to problems. Rescue inhalers are not intended for daily use, and proper asthma management requires constant oversight and monitoring, especially because both allergy and asthma symptoms can change over time.

Your doctor will work with you to develop an asthma action plan, and an important part of the plan is tracking your inhaler use. If you find you’re relying on a rescue inhaler too frequently, your doctor may recommend a different course of treatment.

Be aware that anti-leukotrienes or leukotriene modifiers for allergy control may produce unwanted side effects like anxiety, depression and, in rare cases, suicidal thoughts. Report any of these symptoms to your doctor right away so your medications can be adjusted.

Allergy and asthma management is a significant personal commitment, but being proactive about your care can help you manage either condition more easily. Knowing and avoiding the situations and  substances that trigger your symptoms is the first, most important step you can take.

If you want to know more, visit perks.optum.com/condition/asthma for information about specific drugs that help manage asthma. Click on see prices for detailed information about each drug, including a description, uses, forms and dosing, and any warnings to be aware of when taking the drug.