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Asthma and Food Allergies

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Updated June 18, 2014

Asthma

If you have food allergies and asthma, it's important to keep asthma under control.

Photo © A.D.A.M.

The Link Between Asthma and Food Allergies:

Asthma is closely linked with severe reactions to food allergies; both are allergic disorders, and one study of food allergy fatalities found that the vast majority of patients who died from anaphylactic shock caused by food also had asthma. The bottom line is that if you have both food allergies and asthma symptoms, you should be aware of how your asthma might affect your allergies and vice versa.

Asthma Basics:

Asthma is an inflammatory condition of the airways that affects breathing. In an asthma attack, the bronchial tubes that draw air into your lungs are constricted due to spasms of the muscles surrounding them. People with asthma vary greatly in the frequency and severity of their symptoms. Some have mild symptoms only after exercising or when otherwise ill; others have frequent, severe attacks. Common asthma triggers include allergens, particulate matter and irritants (like cigarette smoke or dust), exertion, stress, and illness.

Food Triggers for Asthma Attacks:

Some foods are particularly well-known for triggering asthma attacks in allergic individuals, especially sulfites, which can be found in dried fruits, wine, and many other processed foods. Asthma is also associated with several other common food allergies. For this reason, allergy testing can be an important part of the diagnosis process in people with asthma. Food-triggered asthma, however, is considered a relatively rare subset of the number of asthma attacks.

Other Complications of Asthma in People with Food Allergies:

Asthma is linked to life-threatening allergic reactions, or anaphylaxis. Respiratory symptoms of anaphylaxis are more common in people with asthma, and "poorly controlled asthma" has been described as a primary factor contributing to anaphylaxis deaths in, especially, children.

Also, keep in mind that asthma symptoms and early symptoms of anaphylaxis can be similar. An asthma attack that doesn't seem to respond quickly to your usual medication may in fact be the early stages of anaphylactic shock. When in doubt, follow your doctor's instructions for using your epinephrine and call for emergency assistance.

Treatment of Asthma and Food Allergies:

If you have both asthma and food allergies, your doctor will work with you to develop an asthma control plan. This plan will likely include some combination of asthma medications -- both rescue medications, which are used in the event of an attack, and controller medications, which can help prevent asthma attacks -- and lifestyle changes to help you avoid potential triggers of asthma attacks. Keeping your asthma under control is especially important if you have food allergies because of the link between asthma and severe reactions to food.

In addition, you should keep any rescue medication for asthma close at hand, along with your epinephrine to treat inadvertent allergic reactions. In the event of a severe reaction, you may need either or both of these medicines on short notice.

Sources:

Bock, S. Allen, et al. "Fatalities Due To Anaphylactic Reactions to Foods." Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Jan. 2007. 107(1): 191-193. 1 Mar. 2008. (note: PDF reader required to read article.)

O'Dowd, Liza C. and Burton Zweilman. "UpToDate Patient Information: Anaphylaxis." Internet Resource. 1 Mar. 2008.

Rainbow, J. and G. J. Browne. "Fatal Allergy or Anaphylaxis?" Emergency Medicine Journal. 2002. 19: 415-417. 1 Mar. 2008. (note: free registration required to read article.)

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