Allergies and Asthma: What Is the Difference?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last Reviewed: March 2022

Allergies are caused when the immune system responds to a trigger, known as an allergen. Allergy triggers can be things like mold, insect stings, certain foods, pets, or pollen. Symptoms vary depending on what type of allergy you have.1,2

Asthma is a disease of the airways and lungs. With asthma, the airways are inflamed. Triggers may cause the airways to be even more inflamed. Triggers include exercise, infections, smoke, or cold air. This leads to wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath.1,2

Allergies and asthma are 2 different health conditions, but they often occur together. Allergies may trigger an asthma attack, but asthma can also be present in a person who does not have any allergies.1-3

The link between allergies and asthma

Allergies and asthma share some things. The same substances that can trigger allergy symptoms, like pollen, dust mites, mold, or pet dander, can also trigger asthma symptoms.1

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When your body’s immune system responds to an allergen, it sends out antibodies to bind to that allergen. The same chemicals released by your body for an allergen may also affect the lungs and airways, causing asthma symptoms.1

People with a family history of allergies are at higher risk of developing allergic asthma. Having hay fever (allergic rhinitis) or other allergies increases your risk of developing asthma. Plus, people with asthma often also have hay fever.1,4

Allergies and asthma also share some treatments, including:1

What is allergic asthma?

Asthma affects more than 25 million people in the United States. People with allergic asthma make up about 6 out of every 10 asthma cases. While allergic asthma and non-allergic asthma have the same symptoms, the origins of each are different.2

In allergic asthma, allergens trigger your asthma symptoms. The allergens that cause an overreaction of the immune system can trigger airway inflammation, making it harder to breathe. This may lead to an asthma attack.1

Non-allergic asthma is triggered not by allergens. It is triggered by other things like cold air, stress, or exercise.1

How do I know if I have allergies, asthma, or both?

Allergies and asthma often look alike. You will need an allergist to make a diagnosis of allergies and asthma, or both. This doctor can also help find out if you have allergic asthma or non-allergic asthma. They can evaluate your symptoms and make a diagnosis. You can then set up a treatment plan to better manage your symptoms.1

Things to consider

Managing your allergies and asthma depends on what your allergens and triggers are. Talk with your allergist about the best options to manage your allergies or asthma. Some treatments only treat 1 condition.1

Your allergist can work with you to see which treatments are best for you and your lifestyle.