Back to topWhat are the most common allergic reaction symptoms?Symptoms of an allergic reaction can range from mild, localized flare-ups in a specific part of your body to severe allergic reactions that set off alarm bells throughout your body. Here’s what to look out for.Congestion, sneezing, and a runny noseWhen you breathe in an allergen like tree pollen, mold, or dust, your immune system triggers the release of histamines from cells inside your nasal passageways, Dr. Abdeldaim says. This causes “allergic rhinitis,” or inflammation in your nose, and in turn an uptick in the production of mucus. Seasonal and year-round allergens alike can trigger an itchy, stuffed-up nose, sneezing attacks, and postnasal drip (that uncomfortable sensation as mucus from your sinuses trickles down your throat).You might feel like you just have the common cold, Dr. Tam says. But one way to tell the difference is that a viral infection typically clears within one to two weeks, whereas allergy symptoms are chronic and could last for several weeks.Itchy, irritated eyesIf allergens like pet dander or dust mites make their way into your eyes, histamines could flare up and make them swollen, red, itchy, and watery, Marc F. Goldstein, MD, a board-certified allergist and immunologist at The Asthma Center in Philadelphia, tells SELF. This is called allergic conjunctivitis because allergens cause the protective covering of the eye and eyelid—the conjunctiva—to swell. Your eyes might also feel like they’re burning or more sensitive to light.A rashThe release of histamine can also make your skin itchy, Sanjeev Jain, MD, PhD, a board-certified allergist and immunologist at Columbia Allergy in California, tells SELF. In fact, irritated skin is one of the most common signs of an allergic reaction whether you’ve eaten, inhaled, or brushed up against an allergen.Symptoms can vary. You may develop dry, itchy patches due to eczema after your skin’s been exposed to an irritant or allergen, or you could have itchy, red bumps or hives.Trouble breathing, coughing, and wheezingIf histamines make their way to your lungs, they could also trigger asthma symptoms like shortness of breath and coughing fits, Dr. Tam says. If you’re one of over 25 million Americans with asthma, allergens (like cockroaches, pet dander, mold, and dust mites) are also one of the most common triggers for trouble breathing and wheezing. Even food allergies can cause asthma-like symptoms.Gastrointestinal distressWithin minutes, even a small amount of food—like a sip of milk, traces of eggs, or peanuts—could trigger an allergic reaction in your G.I. tract. Inflammation in your stomach could cause symptoms like cramping, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and even diarrhea, Dr. Goldstein says.It’s easy to confuse food allergies with food intolerances. But food intolerances tend to be limited to G.I. issues while food allergies often come with additional symptoms like tingling or itching in your mouth, swelling in your mouth and throat, itchy skin, hives, wheezing, nasal congestion, trouble breathing, and even dizziness and fainting.AnaphylaxisFinally, one important cluster of symptoms to be aware of is anaphylaxis, Dr. Tam says. This severe allergic reaction is life-threatening, so immediate emergency medical attention is a must. Anaphylaxis is most commonly caused by foods, insect stings, medications, and latex allergies.
Feeling like you can’t take in enough air or even breathe at all is downright scary. If this is a common experience, it’s important to figure out what’s causing your shortness of breath. Breathing difficulties can be a symptom of so many things: COVID-19, pneumonia, panic attacks, heart attacks, and all types of asthma—including allergic asthma—according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). And each of these root causes may require different approaches and treatments to clear up your breathing. SELF spoke to top doctors to tackle everything you need to know about shortness of breath, including common causes, allergy triggers, and treatment.What causes shortness of breath?Dyspnea, or shortness of breath, is generally an indicator of heart or lung problems, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Cardiac-induced shortness of breath usually happens when your heart can’t properly fill up with blood and pump it to the rest of your body, a process that keeps things running smoothly, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. This creates pressure in the blood vessels around the lungs, causing shortness of breath.1Pulmonary shortness of breath happens in two ways, Tania Elliott, MD, an immunologist and clinical instructor in the department of medicine at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, tells SELF. “One is you’re so congested that you don’t breathe in enough air through your nasal passages,” she says. As a result, your lungs don’t get enough oxygen.The other is due to bronchospasm, which happens when the muscles lining the airways in the lungs spasm and constrict, Dr. Elliott says. People can have bronchospasms for many reasons, including asthma.“If you find yourself short of breath and also wheezing or coughing, that may be caused by asthma,” John Oppenheimer, MD, a physician at Atlantic Medical Group in New Jersey and a clinical professor of medicine at Rutgers University, tells SELF. Asthma can flare up for numerous reasons, such as exercise or exposure to an allergen. (The latter is known as allergic asthma.)It’s crucial to determine whether your shortness of breath is caused by something like allergies or cardiac problems, Dr. Elliott says. If your shortness of breath is accompanied by chest pain, or tingling and numbness in your arm, call your doctor ASAP or get emergency care just to be safe.Why do allergies cause shortness of breath?Shortness of breath isn’t one of the most common allergy symptoms (unless you’re so congested you can’t breathe), according to Dr. Elliott. “Allergies impact the upper respiratory tract,2 meaning your nose and throat. Generally, people who have allergies experience symptoms affecting the upper respiratory tract, which makes sense because you breathe allergens in through your nose,” she says. This explains why your eyes feel itchy and your nose runs after breathing in an allergen such as pollen. But if you have allergic asthma, allergens inflame the lower respiratory tract too, causing the muscles around the airway to narrow, leading to asthma symptoms: shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing, according to the NLM.
If going for a run has you huffing and puffing more than normal, you may have exercise-induced asthma, medically called exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. This type of asthma can be serious and make it hard to do the things you enjoy, Sadia Benzaquen, MD, a pulmonologist and chair of the pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine department at the Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, tells SELF. “It can impact your life—you may not be able to go for a hike with friends or play a soccer game without feeling uncomfortable,” he says.The good news is that exercise-induced asthma is totally treatable—and it doesn’t have to interfere with your workouts. In fact, experts say exercise can actually help you manage asthma1 as long as you’re following your doctor’s instructions for doing it safely.Ahead is everything you need to know about exercise-induced asthma, including tips for maintaining your exercise regimen.What is exercise-induced asthma?As its name implies, exercise-induced asthma is when you experience trouble breathing while pushing yourself physically.Asthma is a condition that happens when the airways in your lungs become inflamed and narrowed, resulting in symptoms like chest tightness and pain, coughing, a whistling sound when you breathe (wheezing), and shortness of breath, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Some people only experience this while they’re working out, hence the name “exercise-induced asthma.”Experts often refer to exercise-induced asthma with the more specific name “exercise-induced bronchoconstriction.” This is to clarify that while strenuous exercise may trigger the airways in your lungs to narrow (known as bronchoconstriction), it’s not a root cause of asthma, according to the Mayo Clinic. Geoffrey Chupp, MD, a pulmonologist at the Yale School of Medicine, tells SELF that some people can have exercise-induced asthma and no other asthma symptoms outside of strenuous activities. Other individuals may have asthma that can strike at any time but gets triggered when they exercise. About 90% of people with asthma experience symptoms when they exercise, and about 10% of people only have exercise-induced bronchospasm, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Either way, Dr. Chupp says he considers exercise asthma “real asthma.”Back to topWhat causes exercise-induced asthma?Though there may be many causes of exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, experts have pinpointed one main factor. “Because you’re inhaling a large volume of air beyond what you normally would, an inflammatory reaction occurs and causes narrowing of the airways and mucus production,” Emily Pennington, MD, a pulmonologist at the Cleveland Clinic, tells SELF.While physical activity is the main trigger of exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, different factors can trigger an attack or make it worse, according to the Mayo Clinic.Back to topWhat are the most common exercise-induced asthma triggers?If an attack strikes every time you’re active, it’s important to understand asthma triggers that can force your airways to constrict and lead to asthma symptoms2:Activities that require a lot of deep breathing, like long-distance running, swimming, or soccerCold or dry airAir pollutionHigh pollen countsSwimming pool chlorineHaving a respiratory infection or lung disease3Back to topWhat are the symptoms of exercise-induced asthma?Just like with chronic asthma, exercise-induced bronchoconstriction can lead to symptoms like coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and pain, and shortness of breath. But you can also experience exercise-specific issues, like an abnormal level of fatigue during your workouts. All of this can make people feel out of shape when they’re actually not. These symptoms can start just a few minutes into a workout session, but like with most health conditions, everyone is different. “I’ve had patients be well into exercise and then all of a sudden they can’t function,” Raymond Casciari, MD, a pulmonologist at Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, California, tells SELF.While exercise-induced asthma symptoms can be different from person to person, and range from mild to severe, here are some common signs to watch out for:
There’s nothing more invigorating than opening your window on a spring day and breathing in the fresh air—unless you have spring allergies, that is. In that case, taking a whiff of those budding blooms may only lead to sneezing and wheezing.Allergies, including seasonal allergies, occur when your immune system mistakenly sees typically harmless substances (like pollen) as a threat. This sets off an attack that leads to an allergic reaction, which can affect your nasal passages, skin, airways, eyes, and digestive system. These reactions can range from mild to severe and vary by person, according to the Mayo Clinic. While you can’t cure allergies, you can learn to control them. Here’s how to conquer your spring allergies when pollen season hits full swing.What are the most common spring allergens?Tree pollen is the most common spring allergen, according to a 2021 allergy report from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).1 Even if you don’t live by a forest, tree pollen is more likely to affect you because the pollen grains are very small. We’re talking about the tiniest of pinches containing thousands of grains, which are even smaller than ragweed pollen grains, the main fall allergy offender. The wind can carry tree pollen for several miles, making spring allergies especially hard to avoid.There are lots of different tree types that release pollen associated with spring allergies, including:AshAspenBirchCedarElmHickoryOakOlivePecanPoplarWillowGrass pollens can also trigger spring allergies for many people, but it depends on where you live. In the northern U.S., grass allergies are at their worst in the late spring and early summer. In the south, grasses may release pollen all year long, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Weed pollen is typically more of late summer or early fall allergen, so you might be spared in the spring.Back to topWhat do spring allergy symptoms feel like?Spring allergy symptoms are the result of a complex set of reactions that occur in the body. Researchers tend to break these reactions down into an early phase and a late phase.According to a 2020 study published in the journal Asthma, Allergy, and Clinical Immunology, in the early phase, an allergen (like pollen) enters your body. There are specific receptors on your cells called antigen-specific immunoglobulin e (IgE) receptors. These IgE receptors trigger a rapid response in the body that involves the release of histamines and other substances that quickly trigger symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes.2 Think of these symptoms as those that occur seemingly the minute you step outside on a nice spring day.The late-stage effects are when your body takes hours to respond to allergen exposure. The cells release other substances that cause inflammation in the body. This inflammation then leads to tissue swelling, which can spur nasal congestion and, in some people, asthma symptoms, such as shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing. Uncontrolled asthma can be dangerous, so it’s important to talk with your doctor or allergist if you experience those symptoms.To sum it up, common spring allergy symptoms can include the following:Dark circles under your eyes (known as “allergy shiners”)Itchy eyes and noseRunny noseSneezingStuffy noseWatery eyes“Some people also have really bad fatigue, which can be the major symptom of their seasonal allergies,” Gary Stadtmauer, MD, FACP, an allergist in private practice in New York City, tells SELF. “Those people need to come in to see an allergist and, in my experience, typically need allergy shots.”
The shift from crisp spring mornings to the lazy days of summer signals good times for many—the start of holiday breaks, vacations with family and friends, longer days, and warmer weather. For people living with allergic asthma, though, this time of year is often the height of endless sneezing, labored wheezing, and generally feeling downright miserable.Allergic asthma happens when allergies and asthma combine. Practically, that means when you breathe in an allergen, it triggers inflammation in your airways that leads to asthma symptoms like wheezing and shortness of breath, according to the Cleveland Clinic. You may also experience more classic symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as sneezing and itchy eyes. If this sounds like you, you’re not alone: More than 25 million people in the U.S. have asthma, and 60% of them have allergic asthma, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).So when many people are spending time outside, those with allergic asthma often find themselves stuck inside (thanks to pollen and other allergens in the air). That said, if you’ve lived with this condition for any period of time, you start to develop some tips and tricks for minimizing your exposure to allergens and managing any of the not-so-enjoyable symptoms they cause.SELF spoke to four people living with allergic asthma about what it’s like navigating the condition, what they’ve learned along the way, and, ultimately, what helps them breathe a bit easier.1. “The diagnosis helped me understand a lot of issues I have had most of my life.” “I was diagnosed with asthma by my general practitioner when I was 30 and received the official diagnosis from my lung doctor when I was 31. Although I’ve only known about it for just over two years, the diagnosis helped me understand a lot of issues I have had most of my life. I’m an opera singer, which makes breathing a pretty crucial aspect of my job. For years, I always struggled to make it through phrases that should not have been an issue. After receiving the diagnosis and beginning to take a maintenance inhaler, it has made a huge difference.However, I do have to take care to wear a mask if I’m vacuuming or dusting and take antihistamines during high pollen season (and if I’m traveling for an audition or a gig). I also plan my allergy shots around my singing schedule since I usually cannot sing the day after.I am beginning to trust the inhaler, but I do try to avoid going on hikes in wheat fields—I learned that one the hard way! HEPA air filters are a massive help, and so is having a robot vacuum (although my puppy might disagree with that hack). I also got dust covers for my duvets, mattress, and pillows, and stopped having flowers in the apartment. Additionally, the allergy shots seem to be helping with dust, and FFP2 masks are great when cleaning to prevent allergy attacks.
Having allergic asthma feels like you’re always trying to hide from an invisible attacker. Pollen, pet dander, mold spores, and other triggers can come out of nowhere, setting off an asthma attack that (literally) leaves you breathless.Luckily, working with your doctor to find the best allergic asthma treatment for you can be a huge help. There’s a wide range of medications to choose from, so if one isn’t a great fit, you can keep trying other options until you identify one that does.But what does that process really look like? First, it’s helpful to understand what allergic asthma actually is, so you have a better idea about how triggers can play a role in your symptoms. Ahead, experts break down the basics of the condition, including a deep dive into the various allergic asthma treatments that can offer relief when you need it the most.What is allergic asthma, exactly?Every allergy starts with your immune system, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI). When an outside substance like pollen or pet dander enters the body, most people don’t experience an allergic reaction because their immune system understands it isn’t harmful. But in people who do experience an allergic reaction, the immune system goes a bit wonky and starts producing antibodies to “fight” off these substances, because it’s interpreting them as a possible threat to your body, even though they aren’t.Asthma, on the other hand, is a chronic lung condition that directly impacts your airways, which are tubes that carry air to and from your lungs, per the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). When you have asthma, these tubes can become inflamed and narrowed. Certain triggers can set off asthma symptoms, like wheezing, coughing, or chest tightness.It’s important to note that not everyone with allergies has asthma and vice-versa. But certain allergens can trigger asthma symptoms and attacks in some people. This is defined as allergic asthma, which is actually the most common type of asthma in the U.S., according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).For example, if cat hair is an allergic asthma trigger for you and you enter a room that has a cat in it, you may have to immediately leave to prevent the onset of symptoms, Catherine Monteleone, M.D., an allergist-immunologist at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, tells SELF.What does allergic asthma feel like?The symptoms of allergic asthma are what you’d experience with other forms of asthma, Dr. Monteleone says, “the trigger is just different.” Allergic asthma symptoms can include1:However, symptoms really depend on the person, Evan Li, M.D., assistant professor of medicine in immunology, allergy, and rheumatology at Baylor College of Medicine, tells SELF. “Mild allergic asthmatics can have no symptoms for most of the year but, when pollen season hits, they can develop wheezing, chest pressure, cough and/or shortness of breath in addition to runny nose, sneezing, and nasal congestion if pollen is a personal trigger,” he explains. “Others can have very severe symptoms such as year-round coughing, shortness of breath, and/or wheezing that is worsened by exposure to environmental allergens such as pollen or dust.”Is allergic asthma curable?There is no cure for asthma, including allergic asthma, Tiffany Owens, M.D., an allergist and immunologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells SELF.
It’s important to note that it’s possible to have allergies and not have asthma, and to have asthma and not have allergies, per the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI). But some people have allergy-induced asthma, which is also known as allergic asthma.What are the most common allergic asthma triggers?Dr. Monteleone says the best way to identify your allergic asthma trigger (or triggers) is to get tested by a board-certified allergist. There are plenty of possible allergens that can spur your asthma symptoms, but these are the most common ones:Pet danderFind yourself reaching for your inhaler any time you’re around a furry or feathery friend? You could be allergic to animal dander, which is microscopic skin particles, saliva proteins, and urine or feces that comes from pets, typically cats, dogs, rodents, or birds, according to the American Lung Association. Because these substances are so tiny, they can hang out in the air for long periods of time and easily stick to fabrics on clothing and furniture.Worth noting: The AAFA points out that there’s no such thing as a “hypoallergenic” cat or dog, which are typically short-haired. That’s because any animal with fur is more prone to carrying other allergens (like dust), so the fur alone isn’t the only possible trigger. If you have allergic asthma that’s triggered by these pets, it’s important to take that into account before actually getting one or being around one.PollenPollen is a fine, powdery substance that stems from plants, and it’s one of the most common triggers of seasonal allergies, according to the AAFA. Pollen tends to blow around in the spring, summer, and fall, winding up practically everywhere outdoors (including in the air you breathe). This can cause major allergic asthma symptoms in people who are susceptible, Dr. Monteleone says. The most common types of pollen that trigger allergic asthma are from grasses and weeds like ragweed, sagebrush, lamb’s quarters, and tumbleweed, as well as certain trees like birch, cedar, and oak.MoldMold—fungi that produce nonvisible spores that are released throughout the air—can lurk indoors or outside. Mold tends to thrive in warm, moist environments, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI). That can make summer and fall particularly difficult seasons for people whose asthma symptoms are triggered by mold. Mold can pose a problem inside your home as well, especially in areas that tend to be damp, like basements or bathrooms.Dust mitesYou can’t see dust mites, but they can set off your allergic asthma symptoms. In fact, they may be the most common trigger of allergies and asthma that occur year-round, the AAFA says. These teeny, spider-shaped creatures (*shivers*) live in places like mattresses, bedding, upholstered furniture, carpets, and curtains, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. They survive by eating pet dander or skin flakes that humans naturally shed. Both the dust mites and their poop can trigger allergic asthma in some people.CockroachesCockroaches can lurk in many homes and buildings—they love warm places that provide food and water, like kitchens and bathrooms. Whether you physically see them or not (as they’re notoriously sneaky and most active at night), roaches can trigger allergic asthma symptoms. Their body parts, saliva, and poop contain a protein1 that is a common year-round allergen for many people, according to the AAFA.Non-allergic asthma triggers to noteEven though the triggers above are the most common source of allergic asthma symptoms, the condition can also feel worse due to things that cause non-allergic asthma2, like viral respiratory infections, exercise, irritants in the air (such as strong disinfectants, heavy fragrances like perfume, tobacco smoke, or air pollution), stress, drugs, certain food additives, and even the weather, according to the ACAAI.How are allergic asthma treatments tailored based on triggers?If you suspect that you have allergic asthma, it’s important to meet with a board-certified allergist to get a proper diagnosis first, Priya Patel, M.D., an allergist and immunologist at Penn Medicine, tells SELF. “The allergist can do testing, which may consist of skin testing or blood testing, to help identify allergens that may be triggering asthma,” she explains. “They can then provide tips for how to avoid those allergens.”
The main difference between allergic asthma and non-allergic asthma are the triggers. While exercise, cold air, and even strong emotions such as stress can trigger non-allergic asthma, allergens, including dust mites, pet dander, pollen, and mold, are the most common culprits of allergic asthma. Cockroaches can also be a trigger, as their poop, saliva, and body parts can cause an allergic reaction in some people (So gross).How can I tell the difference between typical allergies and allergic asthma?“Allergies and asthma tend to run together, so you’ll often find people with allergies who also have asthma,” Sonali Bose, M.D., associate professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, and Pediatrics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, tells SELF. “But there are also a disproportionate number of people who have seasonal allergies without any asthma at all.” In fact, more than 50 million people in the U.S. are allergic to something, per the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.The big giveaway that you’re dealing with nothing more than plain ol’ allergies? You have weird nose- and eye-related symptoms without any respiratory action like wheezing, asthma’s calling card. Having allergic asthma, however, means your body might pull from a grab bag of typical allergy and asthma symptoms, mixing and matching in a way that causes overlap between the two.“Allergies can manifest in many different ways,” says Dr. Bose. “We often see upper airway symptoms—runny nose, itchy eyes—that are the allergic response. That by itself wouldn’t make you worry about asthma. But if someone is wheezing, has chest tightness, and shortness of breath, then you have to consider whether their inflammation is also involving the lower airways,” she says. That’s because “asthma is a disease of the lower airways—particularly the small, very tiny, airways we have in our lungs,” she adds. “It’s geographically separated from a lot of what we consider allergies in the nose, throat, and eyes.”What kinds of allergic asthma tests are typically done to reach a diagnosis?When it comes to allergic asthma, you probably already have a hunch about what triggers your symptoms. For example, if you get wheezy every time you dogsit, Spike is probably the culprit. Regardless of what trigger you suspect, it’s still important to see an allergist to figure out what specifically is causing your system to act up. Doctors can perform skin or blood tests to help you get to the bottom of what exactly is setting off your allergic asthma. It’s also a good idea to keep a diary of anything that makes your asthma symptoms worse. This can be a huge help in figuring out your triggers.History is the most important tool to diagnosing allergic asthma. “A lot of it is talking to the patient and trying to understand what their symptoms have been, the environment, and their risk factors going all the way back to when they were in their mom’s uterus, believe it or not, through childhood, and into adulthood,” says Dr. Bose. “A lot of those things are important for creating the foundation for diagnosis. But we also have different types of breathing tests that can be useful in diagnosing asthma.”Those tests can include:A spirometry test that diagnoses asthma severity and measures how well treatment is working.A fractional exhaled nitric oxide test that measures how much inflammation you have in your lungs.Peak expiratory flow tests that measure how fast you can blow out air using maximum effort.
If you live with asthma, you probably know your personal triggers (looking at you, Rover), but if you don’t, it’s easy to think of asthma as a single condition. While it’s true that what’s happening in the lungs is the same no matter what type of asthma you have, asthma is actually an umbrella terms for a number of specific diagnoses.1“The different types of asthma are linked to the trigger,” Neeta Ogden, M.D., an asthma specialist and immunologist in New York City, tells SELF. “Some people have allergic asthma, for example. It occurs when they’re exposed to their allergy triggers, such as spring pollen or fall ragweed,” she explains. For others, asthma is a year-round condition that isn’t necessarily tied to just one allergic trigger, but may flare during times of stress or extreme weather.However, the different types of asthma all follow the same general process. Your airways—the tubes that extend between your nose and mouth to your lungs—get inflamed in response to triggers, and the swelling can cause the surrounding muscles to tighten, restricting the amount of air you’re able to take in. Your airways may also create more mucus than they usually do, making it even harder to breathe, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.So, what are the different types of asthma?Although they all have that same overarching M.O., they can each flare up for different reasons. Here are a few surprising types of asthma to keep on your radar:Allergic asthmaAlthough asthma can be triggered by any number of things, allergies are the most common. According to a study published in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology,2 75% of adults with asthma between the ages of 20 to 40 have at least one allergy. With allergy-induced asthma, your symptoms are most often triggered by inhaling allergens like dust mites, pet dander, mold, or pollen.With allergic asthma, you may be able to reduce your lung’s reaction to allergens with immunotherapy, most commonly known as allergy shots. This involves exposing your body to the allergen in incrementally higher doses to desensitize your immune system, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI).Non-allergic asthmaUnsurprisingly, this type of asthma is triggered by things other than allergies, which can include extreme weather, exercise, respiratory infections, and stress. Other possible triggers include irritants in the air, like smoke, and certain medications and food additives, such as sulfites, which are food preservatives, according to the Cleveland Clinic.This type of asthma can be a bit more challenging to diagnose, since triggers aren’t as obvious, but you’ll likely still be referred to an allergist to rule out allergic triggers first, per the ACAAI.Exercise-induced asthmaIt’s one thing to have so-called “regular” asthma and find yourself huffing and puffing your way through spin class. But if you struggle with asthma only during any other heart-thumping aerobic exercise, you may have exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, which is just a fancy way to say exercise-induced asthma, according to the ACAAI. That’s especially true if your asthma symptoms kick in within a few minutes after you start exercising and continue for 10 or 15 minutes after you finish your workout.
But who are these people with asthma who experience nighttime symptoms?“There are some patients who experience worse breathlessness at night for a variety of reasons,” says Dr. Galiatsatos. “Some of it is that the physiological change in body temperature could be enough to set off someone’s asthma. When I’m told asthma is awakening a patient at night I have to think about what’s going on in that bedroom.”Some questions to ask yourself are: ‘Do you sleep with your pet? Get in bed without showering off the day’s pollutants? Slumber with the windows open?’ If you answered yes to any of these things, one simple solution is to address those behaviors. Simply having your pet sleep in another room, showering before bed, or closing the windows to keep irritants out of the room may be enough to reduce the discomfort.What are the types of asthma?It’s easy to think of asthma as one disease, but it’s actually an umbrella term for many different types, including:Allergic asthmaThe most common type of asthma, allergy-induced asthma is triggered by exposure to allergens like dust mites, pet dander, pollen, or mold, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. “Allergies and asthma tend to run together so you’ll find people with allergies who also have asthma,” says Sonali Bose, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine (Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine) and Pediatrics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “For those people with allergic asthma, their allergies are oftentimes the trigger for their disease.”Exercise-induced asthmaIt’s pretty normal to become winded during a workout, but if you cough, wheeze, and struggle to breathe within minutes of doing aerobic exercise like running you may have exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, which is more commonly known as exercise-induced asthma.Non-allergic asthmaTriggered by irritants like smoke and medical conditions such as sinusitis, this type of asthma often comes on later in life than allergic asthma. Up to one in three people with asthma have non-allergic asthma.2Occupational asthmaUp to 15% of asthma cases in the U.S. are believed to be job-related, thanks to the substances—fumes, dust, gases—inhaled in the name of making a living, such as factory and agriculture workers, bakers, and painters, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. One clue you have occupational asthma: Your asthma symptoms kick in on the days you work and improve on your days off.Childhood asthmaEven though pediatric asthma is the most common serious chronic disease in infants and children, according to the American Lung Association, it can be hard to diagnose.While there are certain things to watch out for, such as eczema in infancy followed by allergy to indoor and outdoor allergens and asthma, Dr. Ogden says, but “because children experience viruses, colds, and upper respiratory tract infections more frequently, we often see asthma symptoms around these illnesses more commonly in children.”That can make it confusing when it comes to diagnosis.Adult-onset asthmaAsthma that is unmasked during adulthood is a little sneakier than childhood asthma, says Dr. Galiatstatos. “The challenge with children is they don’t have too much reserve to compensate when their lungs get active with an asthma attack, so their asthma attacks tend to be quick,” he says. “With adults, their lungs have grown to a certain extent so it’s never ‘Oh, I can’t breathe!’ It’s more of a gradual thing over a day or two of kicking in.”Asthma causes and triggersResearchers haven’t yet found a clear-cut answer for what causes asthma, and it may vary from person to person. What we do know is that it’s often due to the immune system overreacting to a substance in the lungs, and right on cue, the asthma symptoms start.