When you think of asthma, do you picture a nerdy kid taking a break from gym class to use his inhaler? That’s how the movies portray it. But in reality, asthma affects the young and the old, and it strikes indoors and out. And many times, asthma is triggered by allergens—not always exercise or activity.
In fact, allergies are one of the strongest triggers of wheezing, says Mark Millard, M.D., medical director of the Martha Foster Lung Center at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas. “Allergic reactions are actually overreactions by the body to a foreign substance, like pollen, pet dander or dust mites,” he says. “It’s that overreaction that can lead to inflammation of the airways, causing airway spasms and wheezing.”
When to see a doctor
Asthma, whether triggered by allergies, exercise, cold weather or something else, should be diagnosed by a physician. “If you have wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath, see a doctor,” advises Steven Cole, DO, a specialist in allergy and immunology on the medical staff at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas. “And if it’s allergy-induced, find out what it is you’re allergic to.”
Choosing a treatment
The best way to treat allergy-induced asthma is to avoid the trigger. “With most patients, when they remove the allergens, they get better,” Dr. Cole says. So be on the lookout for your triggers.
“If every time you vacuum or sweep you start wheezing, that’s a pretty good indicator that dust is an asthma trigger of yours,” Dr. Millard says. “Have someone else do that chore, and stay out of the area for 20 to 30 minutes to let things settle.”
But avoidance isn’t your only option. “The primary treatment of asthma is medication,” Dr. Millard says.
“Quick-relief medicines open up airways. But more important are the controller therapies, which reduce inflammation and prevent the airway spasms from happening in the first place.”