It has long been known that there is a connection between asthma and allergies. They often occur together, and it is not unusual for a child with a food allergy to develop asthma later. Asthma is a complicated illness, and while researchers have uncovered many things that trigger attacks, no one knows for sure why some people have this respiratory illness and why others do not. Recent research, though, has found an interesting connection between food allergies and asthma that may help shed more light on the mystery.
What Is Asthma and What Causes It?
Asthma can be very scary, especially for a child. This respiratory illness occurs when your airways both swell and constrict, and fill with extra mucus. This makes it very difficult to breathe and leads to wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. The severity of an asthma attack can range from mild to life-threatening. There is no cure for asthma, but it can be effectively controlled with inhalers and other medication.
What causes asthma is not fully understood, but there are specific triggers. For instance, airborne allergens are known to trigger asthma attacks in some people. This includes mold, dust mites, pollen and animal dander. If your child is allergic to any of these, she is at a greater risk for asthma, but she may not ever have the respiratory attacks. Other things that can trigger asthma include cold air, exercise, respiratory infections like the flu, medications, stress and sulfites, which are preservatives used in some packaged foods.
The Connection Between Food Allergies and Asthma
Researchers have described a process that occurs in some children with asthma, referred to as the atopic march. It describes a progression from early-onset skin allergies to intestinal inflammation, to airway allergies and finally to asthma. This process occurs in many children, although not all children with skin reactions will end up going through all of these stages. Why some do and some do not develop the end condition of asthma is not fully understood.
What is confusing to researchers is how all of these seemingly unconnected pieces fit together. How does a skin reaction relate to intestinal issues and how does that become asthma? One possible suggestion is that a food allergy could play a role in the intestinal inflammation stage, and this could be the connection between food allergies and asthma.
In a recent study into this issue, researchers found a possible explanation for the connection. Working with laboratory mice, they found that having a food allergy, specifically in this case to eggs, affects the immune system in such a way that it makes the individual more likely to develop asthma. In other words, the food allergy primes the immune system to overreact to airborne allergens and to cause the inflammation in the airways that causes asthma attacks.
These findings are important in that they put one piece of the puzzle of allergies and asthma into place. Many more pieces need to be found and fitted, but this one has made an important and definite connection between having a food allergy and developing asthma. As researchers find out more, the results will help with the development of preventative strategies, ways of targeting children with food allergies to reduce their risk of developing asthma later.
If you have a child with a food allergy, she is more likely to develop asthma than a child who does not. This does not mean that she is guaranteed to have asthma, though. If you are concerned that she may have some symptoms of asthma, see your pediatrician or allergist. While asthma can be very serious, it can be effectively controlled and attacks can be prevented.