Seasonal allergies or asthma? Know the difference

by | May 7, 2023 | Health and Wellness

With warmer weather upon us, triggers like pollen, ragweed, trees and grass can make life uncomfortable for many Canadians – leaving sufferers with runny noses, itchy eyes, coughs and difficulty breathing. But is there a chance it could be asthma?

What are seasonal allergies?

Seasonal allergies or hay fever are caused by an inappropriate response by the body’s immune system to environmental triggers like grass, weeds or pollen that are interpreted by the body as harmful. This can result in asthma-like symptoms such as coughing and shortness of breath, as some allergens cause airways to become inflamed and tighten. The symptoms are typically felt seasonally in the spring or fall.

How is asthma different?

The difference is that asthma is a chronic, lifelong inflammatory airway disease. It is not necessarily genetic but can run in families. With asthma, airway linings become inflamed, swollen and congested, again causing the airways to narrow and resulting in serious chest tightening, shortness of breath and wheezing. Ongoing, long-term treatment is necessary to manage asthma by suppressing the inflammation.

Can having seasonal allergies lead to asthma?

Seasonal allergies can sometimes lead to asthma or worsen pre-existing asthma symptoms. This is called allergic asthma. When a person with allergic asthma is exposed to an allergen, their immune system overreacts and produces inflammation in the airways.

According to medical contributors at Care to Know, a digital health-care platform, not everyone with seasonal allergies will develop allergic asthma, but they are at a higher risk. It’s important to recognize the signs of allergic asthma, such as wheezing and shortness of breath, and seek medical attention if these symptoms occur.

If you have seasonal allergies and are at risk of developing allergic asthma, your doctor may recommend taking medication to prevent asthma symptoms such as inhaled corticosteroids that suppress the inflammation in the airways and can allow you to live free of symptoms.

Know the triggers

Allergies can be triggered by environmental factors like weeds, mould spores, pet dander, tree pollen or by irritants that are non-allergic such as cigarette smoke, BBQ smoke, smog, air pollution and perfume scents.

Asthma is triggered by some of these allergens, but it’s also brought on by respiratory infections like colds and flu; exercise – especially when the air is cold and dry; weather changes in temperature, humidity and barometric pressure; and stress or stressful situations.

You can learn more about how to manage allergy and asthma symptoms at caretoknow.ca

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