Each year, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) declares May to be National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month. It’s a peak season for asthma and allergy sufferers, and a perfect time to educate ourselves about these conditions.

Understanding Allergies

Allergies affects as many as 30% of adults and 40% of children in the United States. When you have allergies, your immune system makes antibodies that identify a particular allergen as harmful, even though it isn’t. When you come into contact with the allergen, your immune system’s reaction can inflame your skin, sinuses, airways or digestive system. Take a look at the major types of allergens here:

Frequently Asked Questions about Allergies

  • What are the symptoms of allergies?

    The most common allergy symptoms can simply make you uncomfortable. For example, you may have watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, a rash or hives. Other more serious symptoms, like trouble breathing and swelling in your mouth or throat, may be a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. In addition, food allergies can also cause gastrointestinal issues, which cannot only be difficult to live with, but can impact nutrition. While most allergies can’t be cured, a number of treatments can help relieve your allergy symptoms.

  • What are the treatments for allergies?

    Good allergy treatment is based on your medical history and the severity of your symptoms. It might include avoidance of allergens, medication options and/or immunotherapy (a treatment to train your immune system not to overreact).

  • Who develops allergies?

    Allergies can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, race or socioeconomic status. While it’s true that allergies are more common in children, they can occur for the first time at any age or, in some cases, recur after many years of remission.

  • What’s the difference between food intolerance and food allergy?

    A food intolerance means either the body cannot properly digest the food that is eaten, or that a particular food might irritate the digestive system. Symptoms of food intolerance can include nausea, gas, cramps, abdominal pain, diarrhea, irritability, and headaches.

    A food allergy happens when the body’s immune system, which normally fights infections, sees the food as an invader. This leads to an allergic reaction — a response from the immune system in which chemicals like histamine are released in the body. The reaction which, depending on its severity, can be life-threatening may cause symptoms like breathing problems, throat tightness, coughing, vomiting, abdominal pain, hives, swelling, or a drop in blood pressure.

  • Why are food allergies on the rise among children?

    According to a study released in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011.

    The number of people who have a food allergy is growing, but there is no clear answer as to why. Researchers are trying to discover why food allergies are on the rise in developed countries worldwide.

    For information on kids’ allergies including recipes, resources for those newly diagnosed, local and/or online support groups, visit KidswithFoodAllergies.org.

Understanding Asthma

Asthma is an inflammatory condition of the airways that affects breathing. In an asthma attack, the bronchial tubes that draw air into your lungs are constricted due to spasms of the muscles surrounding them. People with asthma vary greatly in the frequency and severity of their symptoms. Some have mild symptoms only after exercising or when otherwise ill; others have frequent, severe attacks.

The 26 million Americans with asthma have inflamed airways which are sensitive to things which may not bother other people, known as “triggers.” Asthma triggers vary from person to person. Some people react to only a few while others react to many. The most common asthma triggers include:

Frequently Asked Questions about Asthma

  • Can asthma be cured?

    As yet there is no cure for asthma, but asthma can be controlled with proper treatment. People with asthma can use medicine prescribed by their physician to prevent or relieve their symptoms, and they can learn ways to manage episodes. They also can learn to identify and avoid the things that trigger an episode. By educating themselves about medications and other asthma management strategies, most people with asthma can gain control of the disease and live an active life.

  • Is asthma a psychological or emotional disease?

    No. Although episodes of asthma can sometimes be brought on by strong emotions, it is important to know that asthma is not the result of emotional factors. Years ago, people more commonly believed that asthma was “all in one’s head” and therefore not a real illness. Physicians and other medical scientists today know that this is wrong.

  • How is asthma diagnosed?

    Physicians rely on a combination of medical history, a thorough physical examination, and certain laboratory tests. These tests include spirometry (using an instrument that measure the air taken into and out of the lungs), peak flow monitoring (another measure of lung function), chest X-rays and sometimes blood and allergy tests.

  • What does an asthma attack feel like and what happens during an attack?

    An asthma episode feels somewhat like taking deep breaths of very cold air on a winter day. Breathing becomes harder and may hurt, and there may be coughing. Breathing may make a wheezing or whistling sound.

Sources: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Kids with Food Allergies