Updated 08 October 2019

Why you're coughing, sneezing and wheezing

Here’s how to differentiate your sniffles from your short breath and what steps to take in handling your condition more effectively.

Itchy eyes, runny noses and trouble breathing – allergy symptoms are enough to make any person miserable. However, allergic triggers can sometimes wreak even more havoc on your body – in the form of asthma. When your sneezing is accompanied by wheezing and a shortness of breath, your symptoms may be signaling the onset of allergic asthma. Here’s how to differentiate your sniffles from your short breath and what steps to take in handling your condition more effectively.

Is it allergies or age?

In some cases, allergy-like symptoms can be caused by things other than allergies. Postmenopausal women, for example, may experience nasal dryness more frequently and this may be mistaken for an allergy.

Medicines associated with high blood pressure and heart disease can also be culprits when it comes to mimicking allergy symptoms, as some over-the-counter drugs may aggravate congestion and lead to an increased difficulty in breathing.

What to do: Speak to your doctor. Detail all your symptoms with your GP and go over any medication that you may be taking. They will then be able to assess the cause of your symptoms.

Are symptoms linked to allergens or irritants?

As adults grow older, they become more susceptible to nonallergic rhinitis – a reaction that produces allergy-like symptoms but is not caused by something that you are allergic to.

Often mistaken for an allergic reaction, nonallergic rhinitis can cause symptoms such as congestion, runny nose and sneezing. This is especially prevalent when irritants such as strong smells are present in the immediate vicinity. These symptoms can also be aggravated by cold, dry air and spicy food.

What to do: Take note of your symptoms and when they occur. Note that both allergies and irritants cause the abovementioned symptoms, but allergic reactions are also accompanied with an itchy throat and eyes. If you’re unsure of what’s causing your discomfort, keep a diary to track patterns in your symptoms. Also invest in a humidifier to help keep the air around you moist and your nasal passages well-hydrated.

Know how to identify allergic asthma

Environmental allergies can affect your airway in many unique ways, one of which is allergic asthma. As you get older, allergens in the air can set off your asthma, leading to more severe asthmatic episodes and first-time attacks.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, adults are four times more likely to die from asthma than children are, naturally making it a cause for concern.

What to do: Report any possible asthma signs to your primary healthcare provider as soon as they arise. Symptoms include a lingering cough, wheezing when you breathe and shortness of breath.

Minimise exposure

Allergy testing can help pinpoint what’s triggering your allergies. Further testing can also help diagnose whether you have allergic asthma, thereby helping you better control your exposure to allergens in future.

What to do: To reduce allergens in your home, use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to reduce airborne triggers. In addition, minimize pet exposure, use mattress and pillow protectors, eliminate food sources for cockroaches by using sealed food containers and cleaning kitchen surfaces regularly and change clothes or shower after you come inside if pollen is one of your allergens.

Be strategic about treatment

If your allergy or nonallergic rhinitis symptoms are occasional or mild, you can simple minimise exposure and help control nasal allergy symptoms by using over-the-counter medication such as Sinutab Allergy tablets and saline nasal spray. For coughs and throat irritation, you could try an over the counter Benylin 4 Flu Syrup to help relieve sore throats and ease congestion.

If your symptoms are affecting your quality of life, however, a medical professional would be better equipped to offer a full diagnosis and recommendation on medication to combat your symptoms.

For asthma at any age, the first line of defense would be an inhaled corticosteroid to keep lung inflammation and mucus buildup at bay. For moderate to severe allergic asthma, however, your doctor may prescribe an injectable preventative drug.

*Always check with a healthcare professional before taking any medication.

This post is sponsored by Johnson & Johnson produced by Brandstudio24 for Health24.


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