Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the airways that makes it difficult to breathe. Symptoms of asthma become worse during “flareups” that occur as a result of triggers like dust, pet dander, mold or changes in temperature. Physical activity can also cause asthma to flare up. In addition to difficulty breathing as a result of airway inflammation, asthma can also cause persistent coughing and an excessive production of mucus that can also interfere with breathing. Most people with asthma have a characteristic wheezing or hissing sound when breathing. Listening to the lungs through a stethoscope can help identify these noises even when they can’t be heard by the patient. Children with asthma are also more likely to have colds and other respiratory illnesses.
Allergies and asthma can both cause coughing, but allergies may also be associated with sneezing, runny nose, watery or itchy eyes, or skin manifestations like rashes or hives. Allergies develop when the body’s immune system has an inappropriate response to a stimuli. They often occur seasonally as a result of exposures to pollen and molds, but they can also be caused by year-round exposures to dust mites, pet dander, dust and fumes. Some allergies are caused by foods or medications. If the source of an allergy is not known, allergy testing can be performed to identify the source so an appropriate treatment can be provided.
Asthma is treated with medications that are breathed in either through a portable handheld inhaler (sometimes called “rescue inhalers”) or using a device called a nebulizer which needs to be plugged in to an electrical outlet to dispense medication. Allergies can be treated with oral medication, sometimes combined with eye drops to reduce itchiness and tearing or topical medications to treat skin issues. Therapies also are available to help patients build up an “immunity” to allergic stimuli. Avoiding triggers is also important in treating both asthma and allergies.
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