Image for allergy and asthma article Because asthma and allergies are so common and frequently occur together, most parents may want to know about preventing or avoiding these conditions.

Allergy Insight  

“Allergen” is the word that doctors use to describe a substance in the environment to which our bodies may react with an allergic or asthmatic reaction. Common allergens include pollen, mold, dust mites, latex, certain foods , insect bites and stings , certain plants , and medications.

We are all exposed to at least some allergens all the time. But, most of us can encounter these troublemakers without experiencing any symptoms at all. For these people, their body simply does not react to allergens. However, for millions of people, an excessive immune response to allergens triggers a cascade of unpleasant symptoms. These symptoms are sometimes mild, but they can be severe, or rarely, even fatal. Allergic symptoms most commonly include itching of the eyes, throat, or skin, sneezing, nasal congestion, coughing, wheezing, or rash.

Typically, allergic substances enter the body in one or more of the following ways:

  • Absorption through the skin (latex)
  • Inhalation through the mouth or nose (pollen or dust mites)
  • Ingestion (foods or medications)
  • Injection (insect bites and stings)

Asthma Insight  

Asthma is a condition in which the lungs react to some kind of irritation with mucous production and inflammation along your breathing pathway. This reaction may occur moments after exposure to an irritant or after several hours have passed. Allergy is a common cause of asthmatic reactions, but similar symptoms can be produced by non-allergen sources, such as irritant chemicals, viral infections, or other lung irritants. Asthma is usually controllable with treatment. In between “attacks,” or after treatment, the lungs return almost completely to normal. An asthma episode usually includes difficulty breathing, wheeze, cough, or other respiratory symptoms.

Exposure to tobacco smoke may trigger asthma in children as smoke is an irritant. Other triggers include exercise, cold air, viral infections, and allergens. The allergens that most commonly cause an asthma episode are dust mites, mold, pollen, and animal dander. Food allergies can also trigger an asthma episode in some people. Foods like shellfish and peanuts can be asthma triggers.

The Allergy-Asthma Connection  

It is possible for your children to have allergies but not asthma, or to have asthma without allergies. But, the two conditions often occur together. Eczema and hay fever are common conditions associated with asthma.

For some people, the connection between these conditions lies in the similar biologic responses they cause to otherwise harmless environmental triggers. If you have allergies and/or asthma, your body is attempting to protect itself from substances it perceives to be dangerous. Unfortunately, this protective reaction triggers the release of body chemicals that cause results like sneezing, congestion, itchy red eyes, skin rash and/or wheezing, shortness of breath, and cough. With allergic asthma, the allergic reaction is confined to the airways, whereas other forms of allergy may affect the skin, eyes, or ears.

Putting Knowledge Into Action  

You cannot change your child's genetics, but you can do a number of things to safeguard your home and family against allergies and asthma. While developing allergies and/or asthma may be inevitable for some, following these tips may lessen the severity and frequency of episodes for people who are at high risk:

  • Control exposure to smoke—Do not smoke at all. But, if you must smoke, do so outside. Never smoke in a car that children ride in, even if your child is not in the car at the time. Wood smoke may also be an asthma risk; avoid wood heating. It may also be wise to assure that gas heaters and s