When it comes to allergies and asthma, there is often some confusion. Allergic rhinitis, more commonly known as hay fever, and asthma, a lung condition, are two of the most common allergic diseases. But given their common comorbidity, researchers have been exploring a link between the two. Monica Kraft, formerly of Duke University and the University of Arizona, and currently System Chair for the Department of Medicine at Mount Sinai Health System, physician scientists and healthcare educator at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, states that the study’s findings suggest that one potentially leads to the other.
Asthma is a life-long condition that can impair daily functioning. If doctors can prevent its progression by identifying early risk factors, they could improve the lives of millions of people. The following article will explore the potential link between allergic rhinitis and asthma and explain how a better understanding of these two conditions could improve American healthcare.
Allergic rhinitis is an allergic reaction to airborne particles such as pollen, dust, mold, and pet dander. It is more frequently referred to as hay fever, and is one of the most common forms of allergies. Symptoms include sneezing and nasal congestion. It can also cause itchy, watery eyes, fatigue, sinus pressure, and headaches. Allergic rhinitis is often a seasonal condition, but also has the potential to be a perennial illness, meaning it can occur during multiple seasons (commonly spring and fall) or even year-round.
Asthma is a chronic condition that affects the airways, causing them to be inflamed and narrowed. Symptoms of asthma include coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Asthma is usually an underlying condition, but it can be triggered by airborne allergens. Asthma can be a seasonal condition, be present year-round and also can develop suddenly. In some cases, asthma can be life-threatening, due to the severity of airway constriction.
Studies have shown that allergic rhinitis can increase the risk of developing asthma. Both conditions are caused by an reaction to environment to allergens, leading to airway inflammation of the upper and lower airways. If upper airway inflammation occurs early in life, it can lead to asthma over time and is known as the allergic march.
Who are Most at Risk
Individuals who have a family history of allergies or asthma are at greater risk for developing one or both conditions. Additionally, those who are often exposed to airborne allergens such as pollen or dust mites are also more likely to develop allergic rhinitis.
How to Prevent Allergic Rhinitis from Becoming Asthma
The best way to prevent allergic rhinitis from becoming asthma is to avoid exposure to allergens, particularly if there are risk factors for asthma including history of wheezing illnesses as a young child/infant, history of other allergic diseases such as eczema and family history of asthma. However, having certain pets in the home such as a dog can reduce the presentation of asthma. Additionally, medications such as antihistamines can be used to reduce the symptoms of allergic rhinitis, reducing the development of lower airway symptoms such as cough, wheeze or shortness of breath.
The Bottom Line
Allergic rhinitis and asthma are two of the most common allergic conditions in the United States. While they are not the same, both are caused by exuberant responses to allergens, and can be prevented by reducing exposure to allergens and taking appropriate preventative measures. By understanding the link between the two conditions, doctors can better identify high-risk individuals and provide them with the necessary treatments to prevent the progression to asthma.