You’ve heard of allergies, and you’ve heard of asthma. Not so widely discussed? Allergic asthma—a sort of mash-up of allergies and asthma—where the two conditions coexist and directly influence one another.
Allergic asthma is the most common type of asthma, affecting about 60% of people with asthma, according to the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America. With this condition, your allergies are what actually trigger your asthma symptoms. That means that on top of your usual asthma symptoms (like wheezing and shortness of breath), you’ll also deal with common allergy symptoms such as sneezing and itchy eyes.
Understanding allergic asthma can be tricky. To help make things a little less confusing, we asked experts to clear up the myths that they often hear about the condition.
Table of Contents
1. Myth: Allergic asthma just means you have both allergies and asthma.
You do, but the relationship between the two isn’t simple. “There are blurry lines,” Sharon Chinthrajah, MD, associate professor of pulmonary, allergy, and critical care medicine at Stanford University, tells SELF. If you looked at a Venn diagram of allergies and asthma, you’ll find that allergic asthma exists in the overlap.
“If you just have allergies, your body mounts an allergic response to proteins in different things, like pollen, dog or cat dander, grass, or dust mites,” Dr. Chinthrajah says. This response fires up the immune system and causes inflammation in the body, leading to classic allergy symptoms.
But with allergic asthma, that immune response causes asthma symptoms. So, for example, if you’re very allergic to pollen, instead of just experiencing a stuffy and itchy nose, sneezing, and watery eyes, you might experience full-fledged asthma symptoms like wheezing, persistent coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath.1
2. Myth: There’s a simple test for allergic asthma.
Getting diagnosed usually requires multiple steps, including allergy testing and the presence of asthma symptoms. Your doctor may also do breathing tests, known as pulmonary function tests, to confirm that the breathing symptoms you’re experiencing are asthma, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
That said it’s important to understand that allergy testing isn’t perfect, Tiffany Biason Dy, MD, assistant professor of allergy and immunology at Washington University in St. Louis, tells SELF. “It’s not 100% accurate and predictive,” she says. For example, you might get an allergy test that says you’re allergic to dogs—but you have a dog and have never had symptoms. The reason could be that part of your immune system has developed a tolerance that counteracts the part that says you’re allergic, Dr. Dy explains.
So while allergy testing is part of an allergic asthma diagnosis, it’s not the final word. Your symptoms play a big role in determining your diagnosis and treatment plan.
Other allergies you have—like food allergies or eczema—are also considered when your doctor is trying to diagnose you with allergies, asthma, or allergic asthma, Dr. Dy says. “There is definitely a lot of overlap,” she notes, as having one type of allergy can predispose you to other types of allergies and asthma.
3. Myth: You only have to think about allergic asthma once a year.
If your allergic asthma is seasonal, you might think you only need to worry about it for a quarter of the year. But remember, asthma is a chronic condition, Dr. Chinthrajah says. You’ll likely have the same issue next year, and on top of that, there’s a chance it could progress and your asthma symptoms could be worse next time you’re exposed to your triggers.