How Different Health Conditions Affect Asthma
Could a different health condition be amplifying your asthma symptoms? We explore what other medical conditions tend to aggravate asthma, and what you can do about it.
Published: Monday 12 April 2021
Asthma is a very common health condition, with 1 in 11 people in England currently receiving treatment for asthma. The rise in airborne pollen, urban air pollution, and climate changes have all been linked to the rises of asthma cases in the past few decades. Most people are already aware of the factors such as pollen, mould or dust that can trigger asthma symptoms, some of these being more problematic during different seasons of the year. But it’s worth exploring which other health conditions tend to go hand-in-hand with asthma, and how these could be exacerbating your existing asthma symptoms. In this article, we’ll do just that, as well as suggesting how to best manage the symptoms of asthma and related conditions, and treat asthma effectively.
What health conditions are associated with asthma?
Allergic asthma is one of the most common types of asthma, with triggers such as pollen, dust mites and pet hair causing symptoms. These same triggers may also be responsible for other allergies.
Allergic rhinitis is the condition most commonly associated with asthma, defined as an inflammation of the inside of the nose due to an allergen. Hay Fever is a form of allergic rhinitis specific to the trigger of pollen, and tends to affect most sufferers during the summer months when grass and tree pollen is at its peak. Other forms of allergic rhinitis can affect you at other points in the year, triggered by dust mites or mould for example, and pets such as dogs tend to shed more in the spring and autumn months.
The skin condition Eczema causes dry, cracked and itchy skin, and is again caused by allergies. Eczema often runs in the family and is often experienced by individuals that also have asthma and allergic rhinitis. Other allergies include food allergies, which are more common in those suffering from asthma.
These allergies can make your asthma symptoms worse, resulting in increased wheezing, coughing and feeling breathless, increasing your chances of having an asthma attack. Be particularly careful of food allergies, as the combination of asthma with a food allergy puts you at higher risk of a life-threatening asthma attack.
Sinusitis is a condition affecting the passages in the nose, causing them to become infected or inflamed, and is more common in those with asthma. If you experience this alongside other allergies, headaches and pain in the face can be common and unpleasant symptoms. Also making your nose run more, the post-nasal drip of mucus running down your throat could exacerbate your asthma cough.
Nasal polyps are small growth inside the nose that whilst are not painful, can give you a runny or blocked nose, and may increase swallowing. These can be caused by frequently recurring sinusitis, and there is a strong correlation between those with nasal polyps and also having asthma. Anything that restricts the airways or impacts the nose or throat will be detrimental to managing your asthma, this being no different.
Obstructive sleep apnea
When the muscles supporting the soft tissues in your throat relax too much during sleep, this narrows the airways and makes breathing difficult, known as obstructive sleep apnea. You may not be aware that you have this condition until someone else has told you that you snore or that you gasp for air in the middle of the night. This condition will likely make your asthma symptoms worse, so treating sleep apnea is essential for combatting asthma symptoms.
Acid reflux / heartburn
Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid is not prevented from flowing back up the oesophagus, causing irritation of the throat and chest (known as heartburn). If you experience this frequently, this is known as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), and is linked to sleep apnea and asthma. The factors that make acid reflux worse, like being obese, overconsuming alcohol, or smoking cigarettes, are also common asthma triggers.
Being significantly overweight puts you at a higher risk of having more symptoms of asthma, as well as being more likely to need to use your reliever inhaler. If you’ve developed asthma as a mature adult and you’re obese, your weight is very likely to be a factor in the initial development of your asthma.
How do I lower the risk of symptoms?
To prevent or reduce the chances of other health conditions contributing to your asthma symptoms, consider the following measures:
- Take allergy tests so you can identify if you’re susceptible to pets, dust, pollen etc. so you can be conscious of avoiding these triggers. You can use an asthma action plan to record and monitor your reaction to certain allergens.
- Remember to always carry an auto-injector pen (such as EpiPen, Jext, or Emerade) if you have severe allergies to specific foods or insect stings.
- Take antihistamines or nasal sprays to treat allergic rhinitis, sinusitis and nasal polyps.
- Avoid drinking alcohol and smoking, as these will only make the symptoms of conditions like GORD or sleep apnea worse, and contribute to a feeling of shortness of breath typical of asthma sufferers.
- Take appropriate acid reflux medication to ease the symptoms.
- If you are overweight, this will exacerbate symptoms of asthma and of the other associated conditions above, so any stride towards exercising more regularly, eating more healthily, and ultimately losing excess weight will be tremendously beneficial.
- If you suffer from acid reflux or GORD, keep a food diary so you can identify which types of foods tend to trigger heartburn.
Regardless of whether you suffer from an associated medical condition or not, you should also carry a reliever inhaler to quickly treat the symptoms of an asthma attack in the event of this occurring. Asthma attacks can be fatal if not immediately treated with the correct medication, so having an inhaler on hand is essential.
Authored by Toby Watson
Pharmica Medical Writer
Toby (BSc) is an experienced medical writer, producing educational articles on many areas of health including sexual health, fitness, nutrition and mental health.
He particularly enjoys debunking misconceptions around heath conditions and their treatments, researching each topic in detail and writing easily-accessible content.