The Allergy-Asthma Link

Don’t let your children’s allergies take their breath away.

By Karyn Maier

September 2005

It may be back to school season but, according to the first National Allergy Awareness Test administered last year by the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America (AAFA), most allergy sufferers don’t make the grade in terms of understanding allergy triggers and taking preventative measures before symptoms occur.

This may come as a surprise since approximately 20% of Americans face each day red-eyed and wheezy due to environmental allergies, including allergic asthma. About 75% of them endure both perennial allergic rhinitis, or indoor allergies, as well as seasonal allergic rhinitis, better known as hay fever. Since these statistics translate into a relentlessly runny nose for about one in every five children in the US, allergy is clearly nothing to sneeze at.

How Allergies Lead to Asthma

An allergic reaction happens when the immune system responds to agents known as antigens or allergens (think pollen or cat dander). Repeated exposure to an allergen provokes the body to produce a substance called IgE (immunoglobin E), which in turn promotes production of such inflammatory chemicals as histamine and leukotrienes. The release of these chemicals is responsible for the telltale symptoms of runny nose, watery eyes and sneezing. In children, allergies also appear to be related to frequent ear infections.

In asthma, air passages in the chest are restricted or inflamed. This breath-robbing disorder can be classified into two types: allergic and non-allergic. In the first case, an episode is triggered by an allergic reaction to a substance, such as pet dander, while the second type is associated with other factors, such as anxiety or physical exertion. Asthma is a hereditary disease, but there does seem to be a correlation between allergy and asthma since nearly 80% of children with asthma also have allergies.

“Asthma affects over 17 million Americans,” says Steven J. Brock, MD, author of Natural Relief for Your Child’s Asthma (HarperCollins), “and approximately one-third of them—5 million—are under the age of 16, making it the nation’s leading cause of chronic illness in children.” Nearly one out of every 14 American children between the ages of 5 and 14 are affected by the disease, and in large cities those numbers range even higher.

It appears that air pollution is contributing to the increased incidence of allergy and asthma, especially for children living in inner cities. A review published in the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology reports that the pollutant ozone can increase response to inhaled allergens and has been linked with an increased risk of asthma development among children playing outdoor sports.

The review also cites nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and diesel exhaust particulates as being linked to increased airway inflammation and sensitivity to allergens.

Diet For a Stuffy Nose

Leukotrienes released during an allergy attack can restrict bronchial tubes up to 1,000 times more than histamine can, which makes managing leukotrienes essential to allergy control. Leukotriene production is made possible by arachidonic acid, a fatty acid found exclusively in animal products.

To reduce arachidonic acid intake, don’t feed your child a diet too high in meat, dairy and unhealthy saturated fats. Another reason to favor veggies are flavonoids, compounds that give fruits and vegetables their color. Quercetin, the most commonly occurring flavon­oid, inhibits leukotriene and histamine release.

In addition, the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA found in the oils of fatty fish effectively block the inflammation-provoking effect of leukotrienes. In fact, adequate supplements of essential fatty acids with omega-3 and omega-6 should be considered since the body can manufacture neither and they produce an anti-inflammatory effect when taken together.

Prevention is a Breath of Fresh Air

Angel Waldron, Marketing Manager for the AAFA, offers several simple precautions that may help to avoid triggering an allergic reaction in your child at home or at school:

* Avoid peak pollen hours between 10 am and 2 pm. If your child participates in sports, encourage a shower and change of clothes right afterward.
* Remove carpeting if possible since it traps pet dander and dust. If you must have carpet, vacuum frequently and employ air filters around the home.
* If you have pets, don’t let them lounge on furniture. Keep pets away from children’s bedrooms.
* Mold spores can wreak allergic havoc, so remove any mold in the kitchen or bath. Use a dehumidifier to keep the humidity level between 35% and 50%.
* Observe school conditions by looking for signs of fungus (water stains) or dust (ideally, schools should be carpet-free) and voice any concerns to the administration or your school board.

Allergy and asthma can slow down your children’s academic performance and social life as well as hurt their health. But, helping your kids learn—and avoid—what triggers their allergic or asthmatic response will give them the tools they need to gain control over their own well-being and breathe easier in the future.

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