April showers bring May flowers… and an increase in asthma and allergy complications. Since 1984, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) has declared May to be National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month in hopes to educate people about these common diseases. According to the AAFA:
- About 26 million Americans (8.3%) have asthma
- About 21 million Americans (6.7%) have hay fever, rhinitis or nasal allergies
- About 32 million Americans (10.2%) have food allergies
Allergies are one of the most common chronic diseases. An allergy occurs when the body’s immune system sees a substance (known as an allergen) as harmful and overreacts to it, resulting in an allergic reaction. There are many types of allergies. Some are seasonal while others are year-round, and some are lifelong while others may be outgrown. Types of allergens include:
- Drug (medicine)
The severity of symptoms during an allergic reaction can vary widely. Milder symptoms include watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, and rash or hives. More serious symptoms include swelling in the mouth or throat making it difficult to breathe. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that has a rapid onset. It can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.
Allergies can also be a trigger for asthma in those who have it, as many people with asthma also have allergies. Asthma doesn’t discriminate, it affects people of all age, race and sex groups. It is the leading chronic disease in children, and it is the top reason for missed school days.
Asthma is a chronic disease that causes a person’s airways to become inflamed and swollen, making it difficult to breathe. Symptoms can include wheezing (a scratchy/whistling sound when a person breathes), shortness of breath, chest tightness or pain, chronic coughing, and trouble sleeping due to coughing or wheezing. Asthma symptoms (referred to as asthma attacks when severe) are often caused by allergies and exposure to allergens. Non-allergic triggers include smoke, pollution and, cold air or weather changes. Exercise, respiratory infections, and high stress can make asthma symptoms worse.
There is no cure for asthma and unfortunately, it can lead to death. About 10 Americans die from asthma each day, many of which could have been avoidable with proper treatment and care. The best way to manage asthma is to avoid triggers, take medications to prevent symptoms and to treat asthma exacerbations as they occur.
More information and resources about asthma and allergies, as well as the content discussed in this article, can be found at: