Allergy & Asthma: Frequently Asked Questions
What Is an Allergy? What Causes Allergies?
One of the most remarkable aspects of the human body is its ability to ward off invaders like viruses and bacteria. Sometimes, however, a person’s body overreacts to an otherwise harmless substance like pollen, dust, or mold, and creates an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE) – this is called an allergy. When patients with allergic diseases are exposed to allergens, their immune systems react as though fighting off an invader. During this reaction, uncomfortable symptoms may occur, which may become life-threatening in extreme cases.
Who Develops Allergies?
While allergies are more common in children, they can affect anyone at any time, regardless of age, gender, or race. Allergies can strike for the first time at any age; in some cases, allergies have reemerged in individuals after years of remission.
The tendency to develop allergies and allergic diseases has been linked to heredity, but the exact genetic factors are not yet entirely understood.
Do Allergy Shots Have Side Effects?
Allergy shots – also known as immunotherapy – can have side effects, like all medical treatments. Allergy shots should not be considered without at least an attempt at avoidance of the allergen, but there are cases where it is nearly impossible to avoid an allergen. A person with cat allergies could much more easily avoid their allergen than someone with a grass pollen allergy, for example.
When a patient receives allergy shots, they are exposed to closely regulated allergens on a scheduled basis. Over a period of time, trace amounts of the allergens are given to constitute maintenance doses. These maintenance doses encourage the body to produce blocking antibodies – also known as IgG antibodies – and decrease the amount of allergic (IgE-mediated) antibodies.
What Is Asthma? What Causes Asthma?
Asthma is an inflammatory lung disease marked by periodic breathing problems; it is a chronic condition. Acute episodes can occur in people with asthma where air passages in their lungs become constricted, making breathing more difficult. Oversensitivity of the lungs and airways can become a problem when overreactions to specific triggers encourage these areas to become inflamed and clogged.
The underlying cause of asthma is not yet known. Scientists have established that the disease is a particular kind of inflammation of the airways that impacts muscle contraction, mucus production, and swelling. The airways in lungs with asthma become quick to react to environmental changes, resulting in wheezing and coughing.
How Is Asthma Diagnosed?
To properly diagnose asthma and rule out other potential lung disorders, physicians evaluate a patient’s medical history, conduct a thorough physical examination, and order specific laboratory tests. Tests commonly included in the diagnostic process include spirometry, peak flow monitoring, chest X-rays, and sometimes, blood and allergy tests.
Asthma is an underdiagnosed disease, meaning that many people living with asthma do not know they have it and therefore never seek treatment. Asthma can be hard to diagnose accurately because the symptoms mirror those of other respiratory problems like emphysema, bronchitis, and lower respiratory infections.
What Does an Asthma Attack Feel Like? What Happens During an Attack?
An asthma attack has been compared to trying to take deep breaths of icy air on a bitter winter day. Breathing becomes more challenging and may physically pain the patient; there may be coughing as well. Breathing can take on a wheezing or whistling sound during the episode.
The noises and pain occur due to the lungs’ airways becoming narrower as the muscles surrounding the airways tighten. The inner lining of the airways balloon and push inward, while the membranes lining the airways secrete extra mucus, which can plug and further block the air passages. As the air rushes through the narrowed airways, the wheezing sounds typical of asthma are created.
What Is Pulmonary Function Testing? How Is It Done?
Pulmonary function tests determine how well a patient’s lungs are functioning. These tests reveal how much air can be held in the lungs, how quickly air can move in and out of the lungs, and how well the lungs can use oxygen; all of these provide a measure of the impact of lung disease.
For a pulmonary function test, patients will be asked to wear a nose clip to ensure that no air passes through their nose for the duration of the test. Patients will be asked to breathe into a mouthpiece that is connected to a spirometer. At specific points of the examination, the technician may prompt the patient to breathe deeply. To receive the most accurate results, follow all of the technician’s instructions.
May I Take My Medication Before My Test?
Unless otherwise instructed, you should take your medications as usual.
Who Should Have a Pulmonary Function Test?
You should have a pulmonary function test in the following circumstances:
- To evaluate shortness of breath, coughing, or wheezing
- To assess the efficacy of treatment
- To screen for potential lung diseases
- To evaluate your condition before surgery to assess the risk of respiratory complications
- To assess the progression of current lung diseases