Understanding triggers and treatments for asthma and allergies

Awareness is key to feeling better.

May is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month, and over 65 million Americans have allergies and asthma. You can have one or both conditions, says the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). And while there aren’t cures for allergies or asthma, knowing more about them can help you to manage your symptoms and feel better.

What are allergies?

Allergies happen when your immune system reacts to an unfamiliar substance, called an allergen. Reactions vary: Sneezing, hives, itchy eyes, a scratchy throat or other symptoms are possible. If you have one allergy, there’s a chance you may have others. As the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S., many people have more than one type of allergy, AAFA explains.

Allergy triggers

Different things in your environment, known as “triggers,” may cause an allergic reaction or an asthma attack. Because of San Diego’s temperate climate and wide variety of plants, our allergy season can actually be year-round. Seasonal allergies may even cause allergic asthma, making symptoms more uncomfortable.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a disease that affects your lungs. When something irritates your lungs, it can cause your airways to shrink. Less air moves in and out of your lungs and mucous blocks your airways. When this happens, you may have an asthma attack, resulting in coughing, wheezing, chest tightness or difficulty breathing. Common triggers include tobacco smoke, mold, dampness, dust mites and pollen.

Asthma is a long-term disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explain, however, asthma attacks only happen when something irritates your lungs.

Asthma risk factors

Approximately 1 in 13 Americans have asthma. Environmental, genetic and occupational factors have all been tied to asthma development. Asthma is one of the most common long-term diseases in children and is also found in adults.

If an immediate family member has asthma, you’re more likely to have it, says the CDC.

Know the warning signs for an asthma attack


Coughing during the day or night that’s strong enough to wake you.


Wheezing, which sounds like whistling when you breathe.


Difficulty with breathing, such as feeling out of breath, short of breath, struggling to breathe out or breathing faster than normal.


Chest tightness.

Treatments for allergies and asthma


Some mild allergies can be treated by over-the-counter medications, such as antihistamines or decongestants. Emergency allergic reactions may require epinephrine, a shot that treats life-threatening reactions to food, medication, latex and stinging insects.

Asthma medications can be for quick relief or long-term control. Quick-relief medicines help to control asthma attack symptoms. Long-term control medicines may help you to have milder and fewer asthma attacks, but do not help during an attack.


Immunotherapy is a preventive treatment and may be helpful for people who have asthma or are allergic to stinging insects, pollen, pets or dust. During treatment, small doses of allergens are introduced and are increased over time. Doses are generally given by injection and require a physician’s supervision.

Keep up with your treatments

If you start feeling better after taking your asthma and allergy medication, continue taking it as prescribed and avoid your triggers. If you don’t have symptoms, your medication is working! Creating an asthma action plan can help you to monitor symptoms, manage your medication and recognize danger signs. Download and print this asthma action plan from the National Institutes of Health to get started.

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