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Can Allergies Cause Coughing?

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Allergies are common health concerns worldwide.

They may trigger many complications.

And, here we will know "do they cause coughing?"​

According to the National Health Service, a cough is a reflex action of the body to clear the airways, triggered by the blocking of the air passage or the presence of an irritating substance such as dust.(1)

The blocking of the respiratory tract can be caused by either:

  • an over-production of mucus (triggered itself by an irritating object),
  • constriction of the muscles surrounding the throat during an allergic reaction,
  • or the presence of a strange substance (food pieces, water, small objects, etc.) down the larynx.​

To clear them, the muscles surrounding the lungs contract repeatedly, forcing the air out among any object blocking its way. (1)(2)

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What could be possible causes of coughing?

It probably isn’t a simple speck of dust.

Coughing is considered a symptom of several ailments, from simple, short-term ones (upper and lower respiratory tract infections, like the flu) to longer and more severe ones (bronchitis, asthma, lung cancer, etc.)​

Since coughing is a defense reaction of the body to avoid asphyxiation or the damage of the air respiratory system, the most common reason for a cough, is the presence of an external object blocking the air passage at any level of the respiratory tract.​

A healthy person can experience short-term coughing on a moderate basis, both to clear it of irritating substances and to keep pathogens at bay.​

The main cause of pathogen-induced coughing is, however, a secondary effect of the infection itself.

In order to keep germs at bay, the lining of the throat produces mucus, which then is expelled by the mouth or swallowed. However, when certain germ has launched an infection, the mucus production increases as to cover the germ and eject it from the body.​

It is this excess of mucus which triggers coughing when its volume starts to prevent the air from reaching the lungs.

This reflex can be triggered as well by the constriction of the respiratory tract as a consequence of an asthma attack or a mild to a severe allergic reaction, in an attempt to clear the passage of air.​

From mild to severe cases

Coughing is categorized by the general public in two types:“wet” and “dry”.

The first is accompanied by an abundant production of mucus, which usually indicates an infection of the lower respiratory tract.

The latter is caused by irritation of the pharynx due to an excess of dust or smoke, or overall lack of humidity in the environment.(1)

In medical terms, however, the cough is categorized on its length:

Short-term or acute coughs,

They last for no longer than 3 weeks, are usually caused by respiratory infections, such as the flu, a cold, sinusitis (upper respiratory infections, or URTI), or acute bronchitis (lower respiratory infection);

These infections are usually viral in nature and mostly disappear within two or three weeks, along with the coughing.

Mild allergies and asthma also cause occasional coughing fits, which often subside within a few days.​

In the other hand,

Long-term coughs,

They can last from 3 to 8 weeks,​ depending on whether or not the individual undergoes treatment.

Some causes of this are long-term infections that, even after disappearing, leave some parts of the body hypersensitive and continue to cause coughing fits for a longer period of time​.

Bacterial infections tend to last longer than viral infections as well, and produce stronger symptoms.​

Chronic coughing is also a condition that may cause coughing fits for months or years at a time.

Its causes are still undergoing studies, but severe diseases such as lung cancer, chronic smoking, and genetic respiratory disorders can be listed among them.​

Allergy: what it is and how it affects us?

An allergy is a reaction triggered by a non-pathogenic or a non-lethal substance or food, which causes different symptoms such as skin rashes, asthma attacks, anaphylactic shock and inflammation of the limbs.(4)

The genetic cause of this misled immune reaction is still unknown, but the higher rates of allergies have indicated that genetics is no longer the only cause.

In first world countries, the lack of exposure to pathogens at an early age can cause a hyperactive immune system. In other words, the lack of pathogenic activity transforms innocuous substances into potential triggers, a theory supported by the fact that allergies are virtually non-existent in third-world countries.​(13)

In the other hand, early exposure to certain bacteria can trigger an early immune response and predispose the body to develop allergies.

Most of the allergies’ symptoms are mild and appear during early childhood, and tend to disappear with age. Under correct treatment, child allergies can be controlled and allow them have an overall healthy lifestyle.​

For most adults, having an allergy is hard in the sense that it limits an individual’s activities in some manner.

Food allergies lead to a restriction of the diet of the person who suffers it, and respiratory ones are harder to be avoided because of the prevalence and abundance of the allergens (such as pollen, grass, animal hairs or dust mites). (4)(7)​

Those who suffer from severe allergies tend to have their lives very restricted, being unable to perform normal activities without the risk of suffering respiratory complications, and having to depend completely on medicines, special diets, and air filters.​

Should we be scared of allergies?

Around 200,000 people visit the hospital yearly at the United States due to their disease, and around 10,000 of them are required to be hospitalized for the same reason.

Allergy related mortality is unknown so far. However, there seems to be a higher incidence of deaths among medicine related allergies, and also among African-American and elderly people who live in poverty or in overall poor conditions.

An early diagnosis of the condition and regular medication are usually enough to lower the risk of an anaphylactic shock or asthma attack. But the only way to avoid a life-threatening situation is by knowing the allergenic and avoiding its consumption or interaction.(3)​

Incidence in the U.S. & U.K. and Canada

In the United States, 17.6 million adults and 6.6 million children were diagnosed in 2012 with some kinds of allergies.(5)

Among them are hay fever, asthma, and nasal allergies, which affect 10% of children under 18.

Food allergies affected 5% of children under 5 years old and 4% of older children and adults.

However, there was a tendency of growth among the amount of people affected by this illness, becoming the 5th leading chronic disease in adults, and the 3rd for children under 18 as of 2015​.

In Canada, it is estimated that 12% of children and 8% of adults have asthma, making a total of 2.5 million Canadians.

Regarding food allergies, around 2-4% of children and 1-2% of the adult population have some degree of food allergy.(9)​

However, allergic rhinitis (also known as hay fever) has an incidence of 20% among the Canadian population.​

In the United Kingdom, 21 millions of adults suffer from at least one type allergy, and 20,000 people are admitted yearly due to allergies, of whom 61% cases are emergencies.​

Food allergy is also incredibly high among children, reaching up to an 8% of this demographic. Overall, allergies have doubled in the last decade among UK citizens.(14)​

Among the most common food allergies are peanut, tree nut, shell fish, fish, milk, egg, wheat, soy, and sesame. Fruit allergies are rarely registered among common allergens.​

How do you know you have allergies or not?

Only a general physician or an Allergy expert can properly diagnose an allergy.

There are several kinds of tests that allow not only the diagnosis of an allergic reaction but also that identify the pathogen causing it.

​The most common method is the skin prick testing.

This method consists in exposing the dermis and dropping a small liquid that contains allergenic substances in it. If positive, a red bump will appear on the drop that causes it. For more specific allergies, however, a blood test can offer more accurate results​.

​In a case of food allergies, cutting some foods and then observing the results can offer a reliable diagnosis as well.

If you suspect that you or a close relative suffer from an allergy, contact your medic or closest health center.​

Relation between coughing and allergies: can allergies cause coughing?

An allergic reaction happens at the molecular level in the body.

First, an immune response is triggered by an allergen, a stage called sensitization. During this stage, special immune cells surrounding the mucous membrane around the nose, throat, and lungs engulf the substance, be it pollen, hairs or food particles.

A chain event then leads to the attachment of an antibody to the mast cells lining the mucous membrane of the respiratory tract, triggering the production of histamine and leukotriene, and with them, the symptoms of an allergy.​

Leukotriene is of particular interest because it is a substance responsible for the widening of blood vessels and contraction of the muscles surrounding the throat. This, along with the continuous production of mucus, often blocks the air passage, triggering coughing episodes​.(6)

Although coughing is a response designed to clear the airways, since it is the throat muscles that block it then there’s a high chance that coughing does not help to clear the air passageways.

Instead, if the allergen is aerial (such as pollen) then it may worsen the symptoms, or at least prolong the coughing fit.(2)​

Hope remains: The treatment

Antihistamines are the most effective way to avoid an allergic reaction altogether or diminish the symptoms during an allergic reaction.(3)(4)

There are stronger substances that also help open the airways during an allergic reaction by relaxing the muscles. Among them are steroids and bronchodilators. These may have secondary effects, so they are advised only in severe cases of asthma.(11)(12)​

It is recommended to drink plenty of water to lessen the risk of an allergic attack and to keep the throat clean of substances that may trigger one.(4)(2)​

If possible, avoid the contact with the allergy-inducing substance altogether.(3)​

References

  1. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cough/Pages/Introduction.aspx
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3205006/
  3. http://www.cdc.gov/healthcommunication/ToolsTemplates/EntertainmentEd/Tips/Allergies.html
  4. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Allergies/Pages/Introduction.aspx
  5. http://www.aaaai.org/about-aaaai/newsroom/allergy-statistics
  6. http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/allergicDiseases/Pages/allergic-Response.aspx        
  7. http://www.aafa.org/page/allergy-facts.aspx               
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24144575               
  9. http://www.aaia.ca/en/media_statistics.htm
  10. http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/allergies-why-we-get-them-1.976002            
  11. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/antihistamines/Pages/Introduction.aspx           
  12. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Bronchodilator-drugs/Pages/Introduction.aspx            
  13. http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/health-and-human-body/human-body/allergy-misery-article.html
  14. https://www.allergyuk.org/allergy-statistics/allergy-statistics

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