What Is the Difference Between Respiratory Allergy and Asthma?

What Is the Difference Between Respiratory Allergy and Asthma?

Nothing is more frightening than when you cannot catch your breath. Your chest tightens, and you just cannot pull in enough oxygen. At first glance, both an allergy and asthma will look the same. Doctors even treat them similarly.  To learn the difference between a respiratory allergy and asthma today, keep reading!

Parts of the Airway

To best understand the similarities and differences between asthma vs allergies, you need to first understand the parts of the airway. The respiratory process relies on four major elements: the airway, lungs, blood vessels, and muscles.

When all of the parts of the airway work together, you have this beautiful respiratory system that allows good air to come in, and bad air to go out. When any single part of the system is compromised, you experience trouble breathing. Both allergies and asthma can compromise an airway.

What is Asthma? 

The American Thoracic Society qualifies asthma as a chronic lung disease that affects the airways of your lungs. Asthma causes the muscles around your bronchiole, the tubes that conducts air into the lung, to tighten. This tightening makes your airway smaller.

Additionally, mucus forms and begins to clog the now narrower airway when you have an asthma attack. Asthma is not an ongoing condition, meaning there are times when you can breathe just fine and your airway is not constricted. Environmental triggers can also cause asthma attacks. Triggers vary and include:

  • smoke
  • cold air
  • humid air
  • strong odors
  • strenuous exercise
  • Exhaust fumes
  • chemicals
  • medications like aspirin or beta-blockers
  • sulfites

Stress can also trigger an asthma attack.

Other things that can also trigger asthma are environmental allergens (such as those from fungi, mites, pets, and pollen grains) and irritants (such as ozone and other pollutants).

Is Asthma Genetic? 

Asthma can be genetic. Your parents can pass it down to you from their genes. However, it can also just occur without any family history of it.

Overweight people tend to have asthma more often as well. 

What Does Asthma Feel Like? 

When you have an asthma attack, your chest begins to tighten, and you feel like you cannot catch your breath. You may begin coughing or wheezing. Your bronchial tubes are tightening when you have an attack, reducing airflow as your lungs attempt to expand. 

Asthma makes it difficult for you to fill your lungs with air because the airway is narrowed. Even when you’re not in the midst of an attack, you may experience shortness of breath compared to others who do not have asthma. 

How Do You Treat Asthma?

Doctors will diagnose asthma using both lung-function tests and allergy tests to determine if you have asthma or allergies. Unfortunately, asthma is not curable. You can only manage it. Doctors will prescribe medications that help you manage asthma flare-ups.

Inhalers often contain steroids, like prednisone, which will calm your bronchial tubes down. Some will have a bronchodilator that opens your airways. Combination inhalers will have both prednisone and a bronchodilator. 

If you do work to treat the inflammation in your bronchial tubes, you can die from an asthma attack. In 2017 alone, over 3,500 people died from asthma attacks in the United States. 

What is Respiratory Allergy? 

A respiratory allergy is an immune system response to an environmental trigger. Your immune system goes into hyperdrive when you inhale a trigger like pollen, dust, mold, or pet dander. 

Are Allergies Genetic? 

Yes, allergies can be hereditary. Often parents pass them onto a child. However, just because you or your partner have allergies does not mean all of your children will have allergies. 

What Do Allergies Feel Like? 

When you have an allergic reaction, your body will begin to go into overdrive. Your eyes may water, and your bronchial tubes will flare-up. You may have a burning sensation in your throat or chest, and you will have a difficult time breathing.

You may begin to cough or wheeze because you cannot catch your breath. In short, you will feel like you’re having an asthma attack. 

Ironically, you can have asthma and not have allergies. At the same time, allergies can trigger asthma attacks. 

What Triggers Allergies?

Common airborne allergens will trigger allergy attacks. These are the most common triggers: 

  • Dust Mites: Dust mites live year-round in most of the United States. In short, dust mites are an allergic component of house dust. They live in bedding, upholstery, and carpets, and they’re nearly unavoidable.  

  • Pollen: Otherwise known as hayfever, pollen is the name for particles that plants release in the air to fertilize other plants. Your pollen count will vary depending on the time of year and where you live.  

  • Mold: This is the fungi you can find both inside and outside of your home. Mold loves damp, dark environments, so you’ll find it in piles of rotting leaves and grass along with compost piles. You will also find it in a poorly ventilated bathroom or damp basement. 

  • Pets: Pet dander, the flakes of skin and the hair from pets, will trigger allergies. 

  • Cockroaches: Oddly enough, cockroaches are a major source of household allergies. Cockroaches as an allergy trigger explain why we see high rates of asthma in inner-city kids where pollen levels are low.  

How Do You Treat Allergies? 

Like asthma, allergies have no cure. Allergens trigger it. So to treat allergies, you need to either avoid allergens or manage your allergy symptoms. 

The cleaner your air, the fewer allergens you will deal with. So you can manage your allergies if you have clean air in your home and then take antihistamines when you encounter allergens outside your home. 

Can You Have Allergy and Asthma? 

Yes, you can have both allergy and asthma. Because your airway is flaring up, you need to treat the flare the same regardless of if asthma or allergies cause it. There are a few differences between allergies and asthma. 

If you have allergies vs asthma or if you have both allergies and asthma, you need to focus on creating as clean of air in your home as possible. Look into the benefits of purchasing an air purifier to remove some allergens and give you a cleaner, indoor air. 


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