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Article written by Kelly Crumrin
Certain health conditions are more common in people with asthma than in the general population. Health problems may be related to asthma in different ways. Some conditions may share risk factors with asthma. Other conditions may contribute to the development of asthma. Still others may make asthma harder to diagnose or treat. It’s important to understand conditions related to asthma to get proper treatment and better manage your overall health.
When someone has more than one health condition at the same time, the conditions are known as comorbidities. When an additional medical condition makes an existing disease harder to treat, it is known as a complication.
The tendency to develop asthma, atopic dermatitis (also known as eczema), and allergies is called atopy. These conditions all involve an overreaction by the immune system in response to common allergens. Atopy is genetic and runs in families. The atopic march (also known as the atopic triad) refers to a progression that often starts with children developing eczema early in life, later leading to allergic rhinitis (hay fever), and finally asthma.
There is some debate in the medical community about whether food allergies are associated with an increased risk for asthma. People admitted to hospital intensive care units for asthma have a higher incidence of food allergy.
Since asthma can cause permanent damage to the airways, it can raise the risk for developing some other respiratory and pulmonary conditions. Having other breathing problems may worsen symptoms of asthma, such as wheezing, chest tightness, coughing, and trouble breathing — and vice versa.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disease that can include emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Asthma and COPD are separate lung conditions, and both can make it difficult to breathe. People diagnosed with asthma-COPD overlap syndrome (ACOS) experience features of both asthma and COPD.
People with ACOS tend to experience more frequent and severe symptoms as well as reduced lung function. Having both COPD and asthma can complicate the diagnosis of breathing problems and lead to one condition or the other being missed. COPD is most commonly diagnosed in people ages 50 to 74 who are current or former cigarette smokers.
Aspirin-exacerbated respiratory disease (AERD) is a condition that causes asthma, sinus problems including nasal polyps, and a sensitivity to aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Ibuprofen and Naproxen. About 9 percent of adults with asthma and 30 percent of those with both asthma and nasal polyps are believed to have AERD.
For people with AERD, taking NSAIDs triggers asthma symptoms, nasal congestion, sinus pain, and sometimes flushed skin, abdominal pain, or vomiting.
Having asthma seems to raise the risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea. Each condition can worsen the other.
People with asthma have a higher risk for developing serious complications from the flu, a common viral infection. The risk is higher even in people whose asthma is mild or well controlled with medication. Flu can aggravate asthma symptoms by worsening airway inflammation in the lungs. People with asthma are also more likely to develop pneumonia as a consequence of the flu.
Due to the higher risk for flu complications, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise that annual flu vaccinations are especially important for people with asthma. People with asthma should also keep current on their pneumococcal vaccines to help prevent a common form of pneumonia.
People with asthma may have a higher risk for severe illness if they become infected with the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC recommends taking extra precautions to prevent becoming infected, keeping asthma well controlled with medications, and keeping a 30-day supply of asthma medications stocked at home.
Asthma is also associated with certain nonrespiratory and nonallergic conditions.
People with asthma have a higher risk for developing gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). During asthma attacks, the sphincter that separates the stomach from the esophagus (throat) can relax, allowing acid and stomach contents to flow back up. Acid reflux can also worsen asthma symptoms by irritating the airways, making them more sensitive to asthma triggers.
Children with obesity are more likely to develop asthma and have more severe asthma flares. In general, obesity is associated with asthma symptoms that are more severe and poorly controlled. The reason for this association is not well understood, but may be linked to higher levels of inflammation in the body or to environmental factors that are common in both asthma and obesity.
Depression is more common in people with asthma than in those without. Researchers do not yet fully understand the association between depression and asthma, but it appears that depression raises the risk for developing asthma, rather than the other way around. The two conditions may share genetic and environmental risk factors. Studies also show that people with asthma and depression are more likely to overuse rescue inhalers (for instance, Albuterol) and underuse maintenance medications prescribed to control asthma symptoms.
Having other health problems in addition to asthma can complicate asthma management and lead to worse outcomes. Managing comorbid conditions can improve your health-related quality of life and help you avoid overtreating asthma. Speak openly with your health care provider about all of your health concerns, and consider seeking care under an expert specialist if your asthma or other conditions are not well managed.