With an eye on the food allergy community as a unique group of consumers since 2008, we're on a quest to find and share ways to continue enjoying the good things in life.


31 May 2017

Talking Asthma with Dr. Bansal

 
Our thanks goes to Exhale (www.exhalenow.com) for sponsoring this post and making it possible for Food Allergy Buzz to chat with Dr. Priya Bansal of the Allergy and Asthma Center in Bloomingdale, Illinois, about asthma and its connection to food allergies during this Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month. Exhale provides a new and unique service which uses sophisticated technology to capture particles in the air, at even a molecular level, to detect allergens in indoor spaces which can trigger asthma.

Dr. Bansal spoke with me for about 45 minutes on Thursday, May 26, 2017, and what follows is a summary of some of the highlights of our conversation.

What is asthma?
Asthma is a disease that's involved when there is inflammation in the airways and can be triggered by a number of things. It causes inflammation in the large and small air passageways. When you have an asthma attack, you get tightening in the smooth muscle surrounding the tissue, less room for air to go through, and mucus gets stuck inside the airways.

How does one know if they have asthma?
You might see a cough, wheezing, shortness of breath. The key is to know that these symptoms might be a sign of asthma. An allergist can look at the patient's history with the symptoms to assess whether or not the patient does indeed have asthma.


 
How does one manage asthma?
It depends on what your triggers are. You could have allergic asthma--pollen, pets--respiratory, cold weather, emotions or stress, medications, GERD, perfumes or fragrances. Sometimes there is a medication taken in advance, or a person might need to wear a mask, or sometimes a rescue inhaler is needed. Ideally, you want to prevent those triggers. If that is not possible, then you have options for treatment.

How dangerous is asthma?
It can be very dangerous. People ignore the signs or do more than they should, over-exerting themselves. Allergists can teach patients how to treat the symptoms and how to prevent asthma attacks. "If you recognize a problem, you stop doing what you're doing that's getting you into trouble, and the faster you take your rescue inhaler, the better off you're going to be."

How can a person know whether symptoms should be treated as a food allergy symptom or asthma symptom? 
Sometimes you can't tell at the beginning. It depends on the history. Dr. Bansal emphasized that if you aren't sure about whether or not you need epinephrine, the answer is usually yes! This is why preventative measures and counseling from your allergist are so important. 

Dr. Bansal advises patients to elevate their baseline. "If your baseline is good, you will not get into trouble. But if you're constantly having allergy symptoms..."(as an example) "allergy symptoms are causing severe post-nasal drip, which are causing heartburn, which is causing the asthma. If you fix the first problem, you won't have the other problems." In other words, if you fix the problems and triggers, the better you control your allergies or your triggers, the less of a problem your asthma will be. Asthma management, like food allergy management, is not a one-size-fits all. Asthma management depends on one's triggers, and allergists provide very specialized, tailored treatments. For example, if your asthma is triggered by environmental allergies, your allergist will work with you to figure out what allergens are in your environment, and what are your triggers, to determine what treatment is best. Allergists like Dr. Bansal recommend services such as Exhale--which can detect environmental allergens which are triggers for individuals with asthma—as it can provide valuable information to assist in asthma diagnosis, prevention and treatment. Uncovering allergens is most important for truly elevating the baseline and helping people with allergic asthma caused by allergens.

Dr. Bansal explained the benefits of a service such as Exhale. “A device like Exhale takes the guesswork out.” She recommends her patients put the device in the bedroom because that is where they spend the most time. Dr. Bansal explained with an example “Somebody might tell me ‘I don’t open the bedroom windows, there’s no pollen in there.’ But if you have a dog or cat, and the dog is coming into the room, and you don’t wipe them down and they’ve been outside, and they have pollen on them, and they are bringing pollen in the room, and the pollen level is high (per testing by Exhale), you can address that. You can actually start wiping down the dog, and maybe now you won’t be having the same allergy symptoms or asthma symptoms…so it…defines better what is going on in your bedroom to tell you what the specific problem is. And then once you have that data, combining it with the skin tests, and talking with the allergist…If you are getting allergic symptoms, and the testing and the reading on Exhale are matching, then you can be aggressive to target that particular antigen to get the symptoms to go away.”

If I have an inhaler, will I always need an inhaler?
No! Not necessarily. If you control the allergies and the triggers, and take preventative action, and the breathing improves, you may only need a rescue an inhaler and have mild/intermittent asthma.

How does asthma put those with food allergies at greater risk?
Almost all food allergy action plans have a box that says "Check if your child is asthmatic...the reason that's there is because the asthmatic child is a higher risk during a food allergy reaction because it can shut your airways down." If a patient has asthma and food allergies, and asthma symptoms such as an occasional cough are ignored or overlooked, instead of being treated, they will be in a much worse position if they have a food allergy reaction. So many people are--appropriately so!--concerned about avoiding a major food allergy reaction but yet overlook these mild asthma symptoms which could make a food allergy reaction so much worse.
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I truly appreciated the opportunity to speak with Dr. Bansal about the importance of being aware of asthma symptoms and managing asthma. Many individuals with food allergies also have asthma, yet we don't hear much in the food allergy community about the role asthma plays in allergic reactions and the importance of managing asthma. Dr. Bansal emphasized that asthma is actually easy to manage, once you learn what to watch for and how to treat symptoms, and it is so very important to get asthma under control. There are simple things we can do in our daily lives to minimize exposure to environmental allergens which cause asthmatic symptoms. It's critically important for individuals with asthma to take preventative action to limit their exposure to their asthma triggers, especially individuals with food allergies. In fact, Dr. Bansal stated that those with food allergies "should aggressively target it because that will keep the food allergies (more severe reactions) at bay.

For more information about the Exhale device, and how it can help identify the allergens in your home so you can better manage your environmental allergies and asthma, please visit the Exhale website, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter. Food Allergy Buzz readers are entitled to a 10% discount on Exhale services. Just use the code "foodallergybuzz" at checkout on exhalenow.com. Thank you again to Dr. Bansal and the good people at Exhale!

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