Q: What is Asthma?
A: Asthma is a chronic condition of the lungs that causes the airways to
swell and narrow, triggering shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing,
and difficulty with normal breathing. It is not known exactly why some
people develop asthma and others do not, but it is likely that a combination
of genetic and environmental factors contributes to its development.
Q: What kinds of tests are available at St. Joseph Health Medical Group
A: Tests that measure lung function, such as spirometry, are used to measure
the narrowing of your bronchial tubes and the flow of air in and out of
your lungs. Peak flow readings are also used to gauge the strength of
your exhalation. If the readings are lower than normal, this may indicate
that your lungs may not be working properly. If you have already been
diagnosed as asthmatic, lower than average peak flow readings may also
indicate that your asthma is getting worse.
Q: Are there different kinds of asthma?
A: Asthma is typically classified according to severity and the classification
will help your doctor determine the best path to treatment.
Mild intermittent asthma occurs up to two days per week and two nights per month.
Mild persistent asthma occurs more than twice a week but no more than once a day.
Moderate persistent asthma occurs at least once a day and more than one night a week.
Severe persistent asthma occurs on most days and more frequently at night.
Q: Can the specialists at St. Joseph Health Medical Group help me develop
a plan to manage my asthma?
A: No two cases of asthma are the same, and while it cannot be cured, the
symptoms can be managed and controlled. Our asthma specialists will work
with you to design an action plan that fits your individual needs.
An asthma action plan outlines the considerations and steps that need to
be taken when an asthma attack is occurring. It describes the various
symptoms to help you and those around you measure the severity of the
attack, and understand what steps need to be taken to provide relief.
It will also include details such as:
- Your specialist's name and contact information;
- Emergency department phone number;
- The medications you take, how much you take, and when you should take it; and
- Information about ‘quick relief’ drugs, to be used only used
in case of emergency
Q: What is happening when my body has an allergic reaction?
Allergies typically develop when our immune system negatively reacts to
a substance, such as pollen or bee venom, that usually does not bother
other people. The immune system protects us from illness-causing organisms
that invade the body, but in people with allergies, the immune system
identifies certain materials as harmful, even though they are not. The
system then reacts by producing antibodies, which may cause the skin to
inflame, and affect the sinuses, airways and digestive system.
Q: What types of substances could be causing my allergies to act up?
A: There are thousands of different allergens, and people who suffer from
allergies tend to be sensitive to more than one substance. Comprehensive
allergy testing by a trained allergist/immunologist can identify the specific
causes of an individual’s allergic reactions. There are airborne
allergens, such as pollen and pet dander. Some people are allergic to
insect venom or latex rubber. There are also food allergens and allergies
to some forms of medications like aspirin and penicillin.
Q: What are the most common airborne allergens?
Pollen, mold, dust mites, and pet dander are among the most common allergens,
causing reactions when the microscopic particles or organisms are breathed
into the body.
Pollen is a powder-like substance produced by flowers that enable them
to reproduce. During spring, the amount of pollen in the air tends to
be at its highest and many individuals will begin to suffer from symptoms
such as a runny nose, sneezing, coughing, and blocked sinuses, which indicate
that they may have an allergy to pollen. This type of allergy is also
called hay fever. Household mold, which is commonly found in damp places
such as bathrooms and kitchens, releases small microscopic spores into
the air, which also act as irritants, initiating symptoms similar to that
of hay fever. Dust mites are microscopic organisms that live in household
dust. A house dust allergy typically produces symptoms that are similar
to a pollen allergy or asthma. These tiny creatures can be spread through
household dust from bedding, carpeting, and upholstered furniture. You
cannot rid your home of them, but you can reduce their numbers by regularly
washing linens and covering mattresses and pillows in dust-proof covers.
Allergies to furry pets like cats and dogs are also very common. The pet
hair itself is not allergenic, but it collects the animal’s dander
(dead skin cells), urine, and saliva. The otherwise harmless proteins
in these substances are what produce the allergic reactions. Pet dander,
urine, and saliva that settles on clothing, furniture, and household surfaces
can in turn collect other allergens like pollen and dust. The allergens
can cling to surfaces like walls, curtains, upholstery, and clothing,
and retain their strength for long periods of time. When you pet or groom
the pet, the allergens become airborne, and when areas where the allergens
have settled are disturbed, the allergens lift into the air and circulate
throughout the house.
Q: What is a food allergy and what makes it different from a food intolerance?
A: A food allergy is an abnormal response triggered by the body’s
immune system when a particular food is eaten. Food allergies can cause
serious illness and in some instances can be fatal. So if you have a food
allergy, it is vital to work with your allergy specialist to understand
what foods trigger your allergic responses. In some cases, a food “allergy”
may not be an allergy at all, but instead a minor intolerance. Food intolerance
is more common than food allergy. With a food intolerance, the reaction
is not caused by the immune system but rather by the gastrointestinal
system, although the symptoms may be similar.
Q: What are the symptoms of a food allergy?
A: If you are allergic to a particular food, you may feel an itching sensation
in your mouth after eating it. After the food is digested, it may cause
diarrhea, vomiting and or abdominal pain. When the allergen is absorbed
through the walls of the stomach and GI tract and into your blood stream,
it may cause your blood pressure to drop, and hives to develop on the
surface of your skin. When the allergen reaches your lungs and throat,
it can cause your air valves to swell and tighten, making it hard to breathe.
Q: What types of food cause allergic reactions?
A: The most common food allergens include nuts (such as peanuts and tree
nuts such as walnuts), eggs, fish, and shellfish (such as lobster, crab,
crayfish, shrimp, and oysters), soy, and wheat.
Q: Why have peanut allergies become prominently featured in the news?
A: Peanuts and tree nuts are the leading cause of anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis
is a severe reaction to allergens that occurs within seconds of coming
into contact with the allergen. This type of severe reaction, also known
as anaphylactic shock, causes the wind pipes to close, and in some instances
violent reactions such as vomiting, to occur. Anaphylaxis needs to be
treated right away with epinephrine.
Q: My child has itchy skin? Is that a sign of eczema?
A: Itching is one symptom of eczema, but eczema is more severe than a simple
rash. Eczema, also known as dermatitis, is a group of chronic conditions
that cause the skin to become irritated and inflamed. It is common in
children, but people of any age can have it. Besides causing discomfort,
it can be a nuisance that leads to scratching, which typically worsens
the problem. The causes of eczema are linked to the skin's inadequate
response to an allergen. In addition, eczema tends to be hereditary. This
means that it is more typically found in people with a family history
of the condition.
Q: What are the most common forms of eczema?
A: There are several types of eczema, with symptoms that range from itchy
skin, to oozing blisters, to rashes and dry, scaly skin:
Atopic dermatitis, the most common type of eczema, causes the skin to itch and dry out in patches
Contact dermatitis is a rash that usually appears after coming into contact with an allergen
Seborrheic dermatitis causes scaly, dry patches to occur typically in the scalp
Nummular dermatitis causes large round sores
Stasis dermatitis causes fluid to build up in the lower legs
Dermatitis herpetiformis causes itchiness and the formation of blisters and bumps
Q: How is chronic eczema treated?
A: When properly diagnosed, eczema symptoms can be effectively managed.
The allergy and immunology team at St. Joseph Heath Medical Group will
partner with you to develop a personalized eczema management program that
may include oral medications, skin creams, and light therapy.