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Disease & Conditions >>> Allergy Articles & News

Allergies Can Lead To Asthma Attacks


The pollen starting to blanket the country means more than stuffy noses and runny eyes for millions of Americans: Allergies actually are the most common cause of asthma.

Yet many sufferers don't know that pollen or other allergens are triggering their asthma attacks, knowledge that could help them breathe easier.

For people with particularly severe allergic asthma, a new drug that works differently from any other asthma medicine - though it is expensive and somewhat difficult to use - may help.

"It's amazing how many people do not think allergies" despite clear patterns of wheezing, says Dr. Stanley Goldstein of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. More than 17 million Americans have asthma, a chronic respiratory disease that causes recurring episodes of wheezing, chest tightness, coughing and difficulty breathing.

Every year, asthma kills 5,000 people and is responsible for nearly 2 million emergency-room visits and half a million hospitalizations.

Rates of asthma have more than doubled since 1980. Doctors aren't sure why, but allergies are on the rise, too.

While asthma attacks can be triggered by numerous things, roughly 60 percent are triggered by allergens. Indoor allergens, such as pet dander, dust mites or cockroach debris, put these people at risk year-round.

But outdoor-allergy season brings an increase in asthma attacks, prompting the AAAAI and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America to try to raise awareness of the connection.

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"The symptoms are the same - you cannot tell the difference" by symptoms alone, cautions Goldstein, who directs Allergy and Asthma Care of Long Island in New York.

"The distinguishing factor is, if you know you have allergies, you can definitely do more to prevent the asthma."

All asthma patients require drugs that can widen airways during an attack, and other medicines that can help prevent attacks.

But there is a new option for the estimated half a million people with severe allergic asthma not controlled by today's medicines: Called Xolair, it's the first treatment to block the allergen antibodies that can cause an inflammation chain reaction.

It's expensive, between $5,000 and $10,000 a year. However, specialists say insurance companies are covering it without complaint for those who qualify.

It requires shots administered in a doctor's office every two to four weeks. And so far it's just for those over age 12.

While it's not a cure, Xolair provides the first opportunity to block the root cause of a breathing attack, instead of battling inflammation far downstream.

Internet Resource: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology:

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