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The Difference Between Asthma and Allergies

It’s that time of year, the time when seasons are changing and allergies are coming back. It can be hard to know if your child is having a common allergy flair up, or if they are actually experiencing asthma attacks. Dr. H. Matias Jasin, MD of St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital answers the question on most parent’s minds: is it allergies, or asthma?

What is the difference between asthma and allergies? 

Asthma is a breathing condition, where the lungs respond to a trigger which may be an allergy, like pollen, or it could be in response to normal colds and coughs. So allergies basically are an immune response to something out in the environment. It can take the form of a rash, cough or runny nose, or itchy eyes.

What can trigger asthma and what can trigger allergies?

The most common triggers for asthma attacks in children that have asthma are viral infections like coughs and colds or environmental allergens like pollen.

In this part of the country what we see the worst are the fall and the spring, but it depends on what you’re allergic to. In Florida, because there is so much humidity, if you’re allergic to mold, lets say, mold is pretty high in this area except for the very driest months in the winter. So your allergies might be flaring for most of the year and it might trigger your asthma.

What signs should a parent look for if they think their child might have asthma, and how do you treat asthma and allergies?

You should look for trouble breathing, wheezing, night time cough that wakes the child up, or cough with exercise can also be a sign of asthma.

It depends on the severity of their illness[how we treat asthma] and we have a complicated 4 tiered system of classifying how bad the asthma is. If it is what we call intermittent asthma there is no treatment until there are symptoms, and if there are symptoms children have a rescue inhaler that is typically a medicine called Albuterol that is used on the spot to help with symptoms.

Children with more severe asthma take daily inhaled steroids to control the symptoms all year round so that there are no big flair ups, but if there is a flair up they also have a rescue inhaler.

If you are having breathing problems because of your allergies, than likely you have asthma that’s triggered by your allergies. If you have itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing, that’s consistent to reacting to pollen or mold. A lot of kids can take an over the counter antihistamine like Claritin. If they have a runny nose that wont go away we use nasal sprays or nasal steroids, if they have watery eyes constantly we may give them eye drops to help.

The best thing to do is to avoid your allergen. Lots of hand-washing and trying not to touch your eyes, nose and mouth a lot will help you not get those viruses that might trigger your asthma as well.

If you suspect that your child has asthma or is experiencing severe allergies, you should take your child to their pediatrician.

For more information on allergies and asthma, visit St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital.

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