What's the Difference Between Asthma and Allergies

A lot of babies with food allergies go on to develop asthma. And some babies with one food allergy might develop a second. So how's a parent to know if symptoms one day are a reaction or asthma?

In both an asthma attack and anaphylaxis, the airways tighten. Mucus develops inside the airway to battle irritants, further restricting space. In both cases, you may see wheezing, short or labored breathing, or coughing to open their airways. To make things more confusing, about half of asthma issues are thought to be caused by allergies to things like dust, mold, and pollen. 

In asthma, runny nose or “hay fever” type symptoms are common. On the other hand, a clear sign of an anaphylactic episode is swelling of the face, hives on the skin, vomiting or other digestive systems. These acute symptoms are very uncommon with asthma alone. 

Usually context clues can tell the difference. Does the baby have a cold or runny nose? When was the last time he ate something? Are there hives on his neck or arms?

If a baby has known allergies and has acute onset issues in his airways, doctors recommend using epinephrine first, because issues related to allergies can only be cleared with epinephrine. A fast-acting bronchodilator will open up the airways for asthma, but it won’t work for anaphylaxis. 

Unfortunately, the key is preventing both asthma and food allergy episodes. Starting medications can make sure an asthma attack doesn’t happen, and always carrying epinephrine, can prevent anaphylaxis. 

There are great resources from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation, the CDC, and the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology to create action plans and stay ahead.