The protective shield of our body – our immune system – is incredible at protecting us from diseases and germs. Day or night, rain or sunshine, it works diligently to protect, defend, and clear out all bacteria and viruses from our body that bring along infections and illnesses.
To safeguard our body, our immune system incites a localized inflammatory response at the site of infection. During this, tissues and blood vessels at the infection site swell up to allow larger immune cells to flow in and initiate a protective immune response that fights infections and wards off viruses and bacteria from the body.
But sometimes our immune system becomes overactive and starts working against our body. In its overactive state, the immune system initiates a chronic inflammatory response to environmental triggers that otherwise do little or no harm to the human body. When provoked inappropriately, the chronic inflammation makes our already existing health conditions worse – something that most commonly occurs in asthma and allergies.
What is Asthma?
Affecting more than 20 million people in the US, and approximately 300 million individuals worldwide, asthma is a chronic lung disorder in which a person’s airways react to different environmental triggers, like smoke, pollen, and infections, and cause constriction and inflammation of the airways, leading to obstructed airflow and severe difficulty in breathing.
The common symptoms of asthma include:
- Wheezing (whistling sound)
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
What Causes Asthma?
Asthma can be triggered by a lot of things. The common ones include:
- Airborne substances – Dust, mites, mold, mildews, pollens, and spores
- Workplace irritants – Chemical fumes, gases and more
- Environmental pollutants – Cigarette smoke, cockroach waste, pet hair or skin particles, and dried saliva shed by pets
- Natural & artificial fragrances – Flowers, candles, perfumes, colognes
- Infections – Bacterial, viral and fungal infections of the respiratory tract caused by rhinoviruses, coronaviruses, adenoviruses, influenza viruses, parainfluenza viruses and more.
- Exercise – Moderate or high-intensity aerobic workouts
What Happens During an Asthma Attack?
When an asthmatic patient inhales these toxins and allergens, an asthma attack is triggered. During an asthma attack, the body’s immune system aggressively reacts to these environmental triggers and releases cells (known as cytokines) that initiate an inflammatory response in the airways to clear the allergens. But the abrupt and massive upsurge in inflammation causes the tissues and blood vessels in the airways to swell up excessively, due to which they become narrow and lead to chest tightness, severe difficulty in breathing, and an asthma attack.
The Innate Connection Between Immunity & Asthma
Asthma and our immune system are interrelated to each other in ways more than one.
1. Asthma attacks occur due to a hyperactive immune system
Asthma is believed to be caused due to the hyperactivity of one’s immune system – in which the immune system overreacts to even those environmental factors that are harmless to the human body. It causes excessive inflammation of the airways even at the minutest exposure to allergens and leads to an asthma attack.
2. A tripped immune system often leads to the onset of asthma
A weak immune system that makes way for diseases in the body also leads to allergic (atopic) asthma in some patients. The weaker the immune system, the higher is your predisposition to asthma and allergies.
So, when allergy or infection strikes, the immune system triggers an attack by initiating an allergic cascade – a series of events that lead to a rapid rise of inflammation, which in turn lead to the development of acute asthma symptoms.
3. Asthma makes your immune system weak
Frequent and recurrent episodes of asthma cause excessive lung damage. This, in turn, weakens our body’s defense mechanism and makes it more prone to bacterial and viral infections.
4. Asthma makes you more prone to the same, recurrent infections
There is also evidence that, over time, the adaptive immune response in asthmatic patients becomes weak. Due to this, the immune system ‘forgets’ its earlier contact with harmful microorganisms, which increase the rate of both respiratory and non-respiratory infections. These infections then lead to increased inflammation in the airways (and other body organs) and significantly increase your probability and frequency of asthma attacks.
Tips to Stay Protected
The relationship between asthma and your immune system is really complex, and both are a lot interdependent on each other. Therefore, to reduce your risk of the onset of asthma and the frequency of its attacks, it’s not only important to keep your immune system strong, but also to control an overactive immune system that causes excessive inflammation of the airways.
Asthma medications can help. So, if you are suffering from asthma, it’s important to stay in touch with your primary care physician who can take the therapeutic route to accurate your immune system and prevent its overreaction to allergens, which leads to recurrent episodes of asthma.
Going Beyond Medicines
Apart from medicines, here are a few other things that you must consider if you want to prevent immune overreaction:
1. Avoid asthma triggers
Avoiding asthma triggers is the easiest way to prevent recurrent attacks and illnesses. Work with your doctor to know what are the different allergens that could be leading to asthma attacks in your case – pollens, dust, chemicals, fragrances, pet hair – and try to stay away from them as much as possible.
2. Stay away from crowded places
Especially during the cold and flu season, as your chances of catching the infection are significantly high. Even if you have to visit public places, wear a mask to stay protected.
3. Treat respiratory infections quickly
Whether you are asthmatic or not, it is important to treat your respiratory infections quickly, without much delay. Reach out to your doctor even if you experience the mildest signs of cough, cold, flu, sinusitis, and more.
4. Don’t miss out on your annual flu shot
People with asthma should never miss out on their annual flu shot. Get your influenza vaccine right before the start of winters (preferably in October) and protect yourself not only from seasonal flu but also virus induced asthma.
5. Eat Healthy
Incorporate a healthy, immunity boosting diet into your routine. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish, and healthy oils are all rich in antioxidants and can also help you fight inflammation.
6. Exercise carefully
If exercise triggers asthma attacks in you, avoid all high intensity workouts. Switch to low intensity exercises, like walking, swimming, yoga, cycling at a casual pace, etc., to stay healthy. Also, watch your breathing rate while exercising and consider taking frequent breaks.
At EPIC Health, we can help you create a fool-proof action plan to strengthen your immunity and keep your asthma and allergies under control. Through regular testing, monitoring, medication, and lifestyle modification, our primary care physicians can help you make way for a healthy, disease-free life.
Schedule an appointment with our health experts today! We can help you live happy, healthy and better.