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Difference Between Asthma and Allergies

What is Asthma?

Definition Of Asthma:

Asthma is a disease in which the airways and breathing tubes become inflamed causing the bronchi to constrict. While asthma can become less severe with time it never totally goes away.

Symptoms of Athma:

The symptoms of asthma include a person having a feeling of tightness in the chest, coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing (dyspnea). Symptoms can worsen if the condition is not treated quickly.

Asthma Diagnosis:

Diagnosis can be made based on a physical exam and various tests of pulmonary (lung) function. Spirometry can be done in which air flow is tested. Blood tests may show high levels of eosinophils (> 400 cells/µl), if a person has asthma. A bronchial (metacholine) challenge test can also be performed to diagnose asthma. In this test, the patient breathes in metacholine or histamine and the amount of bronchial narrowing is determined using spirometry. Asthmatics will have narrowing at a much lower dose than healthy people.

Causes for Asthma:

Asthma is believed to be caused by many factors including a combination of genetics and environmental factors. The genes that are implicated are those that affect the airways and chemicals that cause inflammation. Environmental factors include exposure to allergens and dietary factors. Many scientists believed it is an interaction of both genetics and environmental factors that lead to asthma.

Risk factors and complications related to asthma:

Having a close blood relative with asthma is a risk factor for developing asthma since the condition is partly genetic. Other risk factors include being obese, smoking, working in an environment where there are many chemicals, and having allergies. Asthma can cause you to be hospitalized and can cause death if not treated soon enough.

Prevention and treatment:

You can help prevent asthma by knowing your triggers and avoiding them and by getting vaccinated against the flu. You should also seek treatment quickly when you start to show signs of asthma. Treatment includes both medication that is inhaled and medication that is injected or swallowed. Bronchodilators and corticosteroids are the medications that are most commonly used to treat asthma.


What is Allergies?

Definition of Allergies:

An allergy is an unusual and generally unpleasant response by the immune system to some substance that you are exposed to. There are several types of allergies that can occur including allergies to chemical substances that you eat, touch or breathe in. These are food, contact and respiratory allergies. In some people, allergies can resolve over time or can worsen. Stings from insects such as bees and wasps can also cause an allergic response.


Symptoms depend on the type of allergy that you have. For instance, the symptoms of a food allergy can include gastric upset, hives and in severe cases swelling causing you to stop breathing. Respiratory allergies can cause a runny or congested nose, sneezing, watery and itching eyes and rhinitis (inflamed nasal membranes). Contact allergies can cause a rash, itching, and hives.


Allergies can be diagnosed by using blood tests and skin prick tests. Blood tests can show the presence of large amounts of immunoglobulin which is released when there is an allergic response. The skin prick test is done by pricking the skin lightly and introducing a small amount of the allergen you are suspected of being allergic to. If you are allergic you will develop a red raised and itchy bump known as a wheal.


Allergies are caused by exposure to allergens; chemicals in the environment that can trigger an abnormal immune response. Allergies do not occur in everybody but when they do occur it is because the person has an unusual and extreme immune response to a chemical.

Risk factors and complications:

Having a family history of allergies and asthma is a risk factor for developing allergies. Allergies are also more common in children. Complications can include anaphylaxis which is a very dangerous and life-threatening reaction that can kill you.

Prevention and treatment for allergies:

You can prevent allergies by avoiding the substances that trigger the reaction. Allergies can be treated using antihistamine medications and in severe cases, a person may need to carry an EpiPen on them. An EpiPen is an injectable epinephrine that you can administer during a severe allergic reaction to reverse anaphylaxis.


Difference between Asthma and Allergies?

  1. Definition

Asthma is an inflammation of the airways causing bronchoconstriction. An allergy is an unusual and unpleasant response by the immune system to some substance that you are exposed to in the environment.

  1. Symptoms

Symptoms of asthma include wheezing, difficulty breathing, chest tightness, and coughing. Symptoms of allergies vary according to the type of allergy and can include gastric distress, congested nose, sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes, skin rashes, hives, and swelling.

  1. Diagnosis

Asthma is diagnosed with a physical exam, lung function tests, spirometry and with a bronchial challenge test. An allergy can be diagnosed by using blood tests and skin prick tests.

  1. Organs affected

Asthma only affects the lungs and airways while allergies can affect multiple organs and systems.

  1. Treatment

Asthma can be treated with medications including bronchodilator and corticosteroids. Allergies can be treated by antihistamine medications and injections of epinephrine (EpiPen) in severe cases.

Table comparing Asthma and Allergies


Summary of  Asthma Vs. Allergies

  • Asthma is a disease in which the airways become inflamed resulting in bronchoconstriction.
  • Allergies are an abnormal, unusual and unpleasant response of the immune system to certain chemical substances (allergens) in the environment.
  • Asthma can be diagnosed using various lung function tests including spirometry. The bronchial challenge test can also be used.
  • Allergies can be diagnosed using blood tests and skin tests.
  • Both allergies and asthma can be treated with various medications.
  • Both conditions can be fatal so prevention and early treatment are important.

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References :

[0]Image credit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/5b/Asthma_%28Lungs%29.png/640px-Asthma_%28Lungs%29.png

[1]Image credit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f9/Allergies_-_When_nature_attacks.jpg

[2]Delves, Peter J. “Allergic rhinitis”.  Merckmanuals. Merck & Co., 2018, https://www.msdmanuals.com/professional/immunology-allergic-disorders/allergic,-autoimmune,-and-other-hypersensitivity-disorders/allergic-rhinitis

[3]Hourihane, Jonathan O'B., et al. "Resolution of peanut allergy: case-control study. Science commentary: Why do some children grow out of peanut allergy?" Bmj 316.7140 (1998): 1271-1275.

[4]Ortega, Victor E and Emily J. Pennington. “Asthma”.  Merckmanuals. Merck & Co., 2017, https://www.msdmanuals.com/professional/pulmonary-disorders/asthma-and-related-disorders/asthma

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