The United Airway – Controlling Allergies To Control Asthma

The week of 5 to 11 June 2022 marks World Allergy Week, an annual global event that raises awareness around allergies and their potentially serious health implications. The theme for 2022 is allergic asthma, and focuses on educating people about the connection between allergic airway diseases and asthma – a potentially life-threatening affliction that affects millions in South Africa (which also has one of the highest asthma death rates in the world).

Professor Mike Levin, CEO of the Allergy Foundation of South Africa (AFSA), the organisation driving the awareness campaign in SA, explains that allergic airway diseases of the respiratory system are the most common chronic diseases in humans. Asthma affects over 350 million people worldwide, and allergic rhinitis affects between 10% and 50% of the population depending on geographic location.

“The connection between asthma and allergic airway diseases is important. It is known that asthma and allergies in the upper airways frequently co-exist. This can aggravate breathing difficulty, wheezing, cough, and other respiratory problems. Treating asthma and upper airway allergies together, helps improve both problems,” advises Prof Levin – who is also head of the division of asthma and allergy in the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University of Cape Town.

Professor Claudia Gray, a paediatrician, allergist and executive committee member of Allergy Society of South Africa (ALLSA), explains that the concept of the “united airway” is important when it comes to controlling and treating allergies and asthma. “The nose and the chest are part of one system – the united airway. Poor control of nasal symptoms can lead to poor control of asthma and we need to remember to treat nasal allergies early and effectively in order to control asthma symptoms to our best ability.”

“Nasal and chest diseases often go hand-in-hand, with up to 38% of patients with allergic rhinitis (AR) having associated asthma and up to 80% of asthmatics have allergic rhinitis,” says Prof Gray. “Allergic rhinitis is an allergic reaction of the nasal lining to allergens in the environment. Such allergens should usually be harmless, however, when the allergic person breathes in certain allergens, the immune system is activated and chemical messengers are released inside the nose and surrounding tissues. Although symptoms of allergic rhinitis are often thought of as annoying rather than serious, many studies have shown that if allergic rhinitis is not managed well, it can lead to complications such as asthma.”

Prof Levin and Prof Gray advise that if you are an allergy sufferer that you should take your symptoms seriously and manage your allergy carefully to stop the risk of developing asthma. “Pay attention to the united airway and think: The chest starts in the nose. It is important to understand how asthma and airway allergies are connected. Then, with awareness and avoidance of triggers when possible, and with effective therapies, patients can improve their quality of life and breathe better.”

“For people who suffer from asthma, it is important to treat asthma with regular preventor therapy even when symptoms are not present, to control the allergy and avoid a potential asthma attack. Controller medication is most effective when delivered directly to the lungs using an asthma pump or a dry powder inhaler. AFSA has just launched a new device, the AfriSpacer™, which improves lung deposition of inhaled medication given by an asthma pump, making taking medication from an asthma pump easier and more effective.”

More information on asthma and allergies can be accessed on the AFSA website at Asthma – AFSA (allergyfoundation.co.za) or contact the Allergy Foundation of South Africa on 081 405 8442; email info@allergyfoundation.co.za. Follow @SAallergy on Instagram and Twitter @SAallergy and Facebook @SAallergy

Issued and prepared by Paula Wilson Media Consulting for AFSA and ALLSA. For media interviews and further information please contact Cath Pate on cathpate@pwmc.co.za / +27 82 922 1737 or Paula Wilson paula@pwmc.co.za / +27 82 659 9187.