Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Allergies and Asthma – Similarities and Differences

A Guest post by Michael Ravitsky
Many people wonder about the difference between allergies and asthma, and we will take a brief look at the physiological process behind each. What makes these two conditions so confusing is that many of the symptoms overlap, many of the triggers overlap, and most people who have asthma also have allergies.

Asthma is a chronic respiratory sensitivity that can develop at any point in life, but usually begins during early childhood – around age 10. An asthma attack occurs when muscles in the respiratory system react to relatively harmless particles as though they were harmful microorganisms or irritants. During an asthma attack, muscles inside the airways get inflamed and constrict, which decreases the width of the actual airway. This causes breathing difficulties in the form of coughing, wheezing, and tightness in the chest.

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to harmful pathogens; the problem is that, for people with asthma, the inflammatory response occurs at inappropriate times. Common triggers of asthma include pollen, mold spores, dust particles, and fumes – substances that are mostly biologically harmless in small amounts.

Allergies are also an over-sensitivity to relatively harmless substances, including mold, pollen, pet dander, and dust. It is that same inflammatory response that causes allergy symptoms, but they manifest differently in the body. Allergy symptoms include itchy or watery eyes, sneezing, runny nose, or congestion. Some people experience chronic allergy symptoms, while many experience seasonal allergies, such as when Spring comes around and trees release pollen into the air.

Asthma is not really something that comes and goes, although the magnitude and frequency of symptoms often fade over time with proper treatment. It is a chronic and often serious lung disease that must always be monitored. Allergy symptoms, on the other hand, are less central and are often more uncomfortable than dangerous, though serious allergy attacks have been known to restrict the airways in a process similar to that of asthma. Being allergic to a substance is also something that won’t go away, but people can become less sensitive to certain particles as they get older.

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