Asthma, a chronic condition affecting the airways, is associated with an underlying allergic condition. In asthma, the airways become very sensitive to allergens and other triggers. When an asthma attack is triggered, the airways narrow, the muscles around the airways tighten and the linings of the airways may produce sticky mucous. All these changes make it difficult to breathe, and in some cases this can be life threatening.
Asthma is a common condition, as these statistics show:
- There are estimated to be over 150 million asthma sufferers worldwide
- Over 5.1 million people in the UK are currently being treated for asthma
- In 2001, 1 in 8 children, and 1 in 13 adults in the UK suffered from asthma
- Prevalence is increasing in most countries at a rate of 20 to 50% every 10 years
In 1994, 5.4% of Americans were reported as having asthma, and the number of children under the age of five having asthma had grown by 160% since 1980
Around 1500 people each year die from asthma in the UK
In general, treatments for asthma are designed to combat symptoms, but a combination of allergen avoidance and the correct level of medication is key to effective management of asthma (Global Initiative for Asthma Guidelines).
The most common environmental allergens for asthma include; house dust mite allergens, cat dander, grass pollen, dog dander, mould spores and cigarette smoke. Other things may trigger, or worsen, an asthma attack such as, exercise, infections, exposure to cold, wet weather and irritants like petrol fumes, paint and car exhaust fumes.
Over 85% of asthmatic children have been shown to be sensitised to House Dust Mite Allergens. Some of the major HDM allergens contain digestive enzymes called proteases, which the dust mites excrete to break down flakes of shed skin – the main source of food for the dust mites. When these protease allergens are breathed into the lungs, they attack the lining of the airways allowing the allergens to enter the body and trigger an asthma attack. Proteases may also provide a means where other types of allergens enter the body to cause allergic reactions. Controlling exposure to these allergens could significantly help to reduce the number of asthma attacks.
ActivAllergy Mite-Alert is a simple, quick and cost effective test for house dust mite allergens helping allergy sufferers to accurately “see” the levels of the allergen present in their environment. By pinpointing these “hotspots” of high allergen content allergen avoidance methods can be applied more effectively with the minimum of effort.
Symptoms of asthma
The symptoms of asthma vary from person to person, but the five most common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath – especially after coming into contact with an allergen or other triggers such as starting exercise, breathing in cold air, or inhaling smoke
- Tightness in the chest – it may feel like someone sitting on your rib cage
- Coughing – mainly caused by the build up of mucus in the lungs
- Wheezing – especially when exhaling. This is often accompanied by a whistling sound.
- Rapid heart rate
- Info for parents
Often there is a history of a particular allergic disease in a family, and this might predispose your child to being affected at some stage in their lives. New information suggests that allergens, such as those from the house dust mite, can cross the placental barrier from mother to child, but it is not clear how much effect this has in later life. There is clear evidence, however, that environmental exposure to indoor allergens has a major influence on the development and severity of allergies. All parties agree that removal of allergens, and especially house dust mite allergens is an important step in reducing the chances of developing disease.
The British Medical Association has stated that “a child who is exposed to high levels of house dust mite allergen in the first year of life is statistically more likely to develop asthma in childhood and in the teens”. Infants spend most of their time in the cot or pram or the parents bed and care should be taken to ensure that these, as well as surrounding carpets, and soft toys have low dust mite allergen levels.
Most children develop asthma between the ages of three and eight. Allergen reduction in the first year of life can help reduce the risk of developing asthma. While there is a genetic element, with asthma and other allergies tending to run in families, there is clear evidence that environmental exposure to indoor allergens has a major influence on the development and severity of allergies. If your child has asthma, it is important to follow the programme prescribed by your doctor, but you can help your child control their symptoms by reducing allergen levels in the home.