Recent research has revealed a strong link between the two, causing a recent change in the way doctors now treat them.
Hay fever now affects 3 million Australians. This means that 1 in 5 of us have to battle through spring and summer with runny noses, watery eyes, and the other symptoms of hay fever. On top of that, Asthma Australia reports 1 in 10 Australians now suffer from asthma, and around a third of these people report having asthma symptoms that interfere with their daily lives.
In Australia, hay fever and asthma are both on the rise.
This isn’t really surprising as the same things can trigger both conditions; typically dust mite, pet allergens, pollen, and moulds. What also should come as no surprise is the fact that asthma and hay fever are often found in the same patients. In fact, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that around 80% of patients with asthma also have hay fever, and hay fever is one of the biggest risk factors for developing asthma.
Despite their similarities, the two conditions have often been treated as two separate conditions because one exists in the upper airway, and the other occurs in the lower airway however things are now changing and doctors are now referencing both airways to be part of a unified airway syndrome. – says Dr Suzie Bekir, clinical director at the Australian Allergy Centre
The upper airway consists of the nose, mouth, sinuses, and throat. The lower airway consists of the trachea, bronchial tubes, and lungs. And when they are functioning normally, they work together to form a kind of two-step air filter. When we have a cold, laryngitis, or hay fever, the symptoms show themselves in our upper airway. But when we have bronchitis or asthma, the symptoms show themselves in the lower airway.
Traditionally many consultations were focused on the lower airway because of the serious nature of bronchial and asthmatic problems, and during these consultations, not much attention was focused on the upper airway at all.
However, recent research suggests that making a distinction between the upper and lower airways doesn’t make sense, especially as the link between hay fever and asthma is now firmly established. The unified airway is a new way of thinking for doctors and now patients.
In fact, Doctors these days are now working with the understanding that asthma and hay fever are simply two manifestations of one unified airway and that a nose reacting to allergens will very often lead to inflammation in the lower airways too.
Conversely, treating the nose will most likely affect lower airway inflammation. Asthma patients who treat their rhinitis can actually reduce their number of asthma-related hospital visits.
Dr. Tobias Pincock, Sydney ear, nose & throat specialist says, “Recent medical research has highlighted the importance of looking at the upper and lower respiratory systems as one airway, and treating conditions like hay fever and asthma as two manifestations of the same problem, which they are in many cases.”
Treatment for upper and lower airway infections has traditionally been different because of the structural difference between the two. However, treatments like corticosteroids treat the underlying inflammation that occurs in both.
Allergen immunotherapy can also be effective in treating co-existing asthma and hay fever. Immunotherapy is a treatment carried out by a clinical immunologist or allergy specialist that reduces the severity of symptoms over time by introducing tiny portions of the allergen in the same way a vaccine is introduced to the body to prevent illness. Over time, the body develops immunity, and allergy symptoms significantly reduce.
“Hay fever and asthma really reduce the quality of your life” says Dr Suzan Bekir. “It’s not until after our patients receive treatment that many patients really understand the impact these conditions were having on their daily lives”.
If you have concerns about your hay fever or asthma, contact us at our allergy clinic on 1300 156 649. You can also use our online appointment system, and book in to see one of our GP’s who are trained in allergic rhinitis and asthma to assist with making sure you get the best available treatment. For online bookings, click here.
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