Understanding triggers and treatments for asthma and allergies

Awareness is key to feeling better.

May is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month, and over a quarter of U.S. adults have seasonal allergies and nearly 9% of adults have asthma, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you have one or both conditions, finding relief isn’t always easy. 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 are one of the most common chronic diseases. They happen when your body’s immune system views a substance as harmful and overreacts to it, says the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. The substances that cause allergic reactions are known as allergens. 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.

Allergy triggers

Different things in your environment, known as “triggers,” may cause an allergic reaction or an asthma attack. As temperatures continue to warm, pollen seasons start earlier and last longer, which can make nasal allergy symptoms more frequent. 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 CDC explains, however, asthma attacks only happen when something irritates your lungs.

Asthma risk factors

If an immediate family member has asthma, you’re more likely to have it, says the CDC. Environmental, genetic and occupational factors have all been tied to asthma development. It’s one of the most common long-term diseases in children and can also affect adults.

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.

You may also like …

Kale salad

5 asthma superfoods

Have asthma? Try these superfoods, which may help reduce symptoms.

Man sneezing into tissue

There’s something in the air … seasonal allergies

Find out how you can protect yourself from the spring sniffles.