Other health conditions related to asthma

Whether it’s hay fever, nasal polyps, or vocal cord dysfunction, getting the right diagnosis and treatment for other conditions could benefit your asthma as well.

Find out how some conditions are more common when you have asthma, how they can make asthma harder to manage, and what you can do to lower the risk of them making asthma symptoms worse.

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other conditions are making your asthma worse. Getting the right diagnosis and treatment could benefit your asthma too.

Hay fever and other allergies

If you’ve got asthma you can often have other allergic conditions too. Sometimes you can have one or more of these allergies at the same time.

  • Allergic rhinitis is the most common of all the related health conditions. Hay fever is allergic rhinitis triggered by pollen, usually during the summer months. But you can also have allergic rhinitis all year round, triggered by dust mites, pets or mould. If you have a blocked, runny, itchy nose, or sneeze a lot, it could be rhinitis.
  • Eczema (allergic or atopic asthma) is an allergic condition that causes dry, cracked and itchy skin. Eczema often runs in families, alongside asthma and allergic rhinitis.
  • Food allergies can also be seen alongside other allergies like asthma, allergic rhinitis or eczema.

How allergies affect your asthma

Allergies can make your asthma symptoms worse - like coughing, wheezing, tight chest and feeling breathless. This can increase your risk of an asthma attack.

If you have a food allergy and asthma, you’re more at risk of a life-threatening asthma attack.

How to lower your risk of symptoms

Find out more about allergic triggers like pollen, food and dust mites.

Sinusitis

Chronic sinusitis, where the passages in the nose become inflamed or infected, is more likely for people with asthma.

Sinusitis can be a complication of allergic rhinitis. You may have a headache or facial pain alongside a blocked or runny nose.

How sinusitis affects your asthma

Sinusitis, alongside rhinitis, can make your asthma worse – you may find it harder to breathe, and post-nasal drip (a feeling of mucus running down the back of your throat) may make you cough more.

How to lower your risk of symptoms

  • Good control of your asthma symptoms can benefit your sinusitis symptoms too
  • Avoid allergic triggers
  • Treat your rhinitis
  • Add sinusitis to your asthma action plan and make sure you’re treating both

Nasal polyps

People with asthma are more likely to get nasal polyps than people without asthma.

Nasal polyps are small growths in the nose. They’re not painful, but they can mean your nose is always blocked or runny. It can sometimes feel like you have a cold that doesn’t go away. You may need to swallow all the time. (This may be caused by postnasal drip which is when mucus from your nose runs into your throat.)

Nasal polyps are often caused by sinusitis that keeps coming back. People with rhinitis, or sinusitis and nasal polyps often have asthma too.

How nasal polyps affect your asthma

If you have asthma and nasal polyps, it can sometimes mean you have asthma that’s more difficult to treat.

When your nose is blocked or runny, it can affect your breathing, sleeping, and can irritate your airways. This can make them more inflamed and sensitive to triggers.

You may need more asthma medicines to deal with your asthma symptoms.

How to lower your risk of symptoms

  • Use a steroid nasal spray or drops
  • Ask your GP if your nasal polyps can be removed - some research suggests the removal of nasal polyps can lead to an improvement in asthma
  • Have an asthma review so your GP can make sure you’re on the right treatment plan to deal with more asthma symptoms

Obstructive sleep apnoea

You’re more likely to get obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) if you have asthma - especially if you’re overweight or have asthma that’s difficult to control.  

How OSA affects your asthma

OSA affects your breathing patterns when you’re sleeping. Often you don’t know you’ve got it until someone tells you you’re snoring (people with OSA often snore) or gasping awake in the night. Another sign is that you’re very tired during the day.

Studies suggest that obstructive sleep apnoea can make your asthma symptoms worse so it’s important to treat it.

How to lower your risk of symptoms

Acid reflux or heartburn

You’re more likely to get acid reflux or heartburn if you have asthma - especially if your asthma is severe or difficult to control.

This is where acid from the stomach leaks out of the stomach up into the oesophagus (the long tube of muscle that runs from the mouth to the stomach).

You might get a burning feeling in your chest after eating, a bad taste in the mouth, and find it hard to swallow.

If you keep getting acid reflux or heartburn, it’s known as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD).

GORD and obstructive sleep apnoea are linked too, so you may have both at the same time.

How GORD can affect your asthma

If you have asthma and GORD, you need to keep a closer eye on your asthma symptoms. They could get worse because of stomach acid irritating your airways.

The things that make heartburn worse - being overweight, drinking alcohol, smoking, and stress - are all common asthma triggers too.

Although it’s not yet clear whether treating acid reflux improves asthma symptoms, there is some evidence to say it might improve them for some people.

How to lower your risk of symptoms

  • Ask your GP or pharmacist about medicines for acid reflux
  • Keep a food diary to see what makes it worse
  • Ask for help with losing weight
  • Stop smoking

Vocal cord dysfunction (Inducible laryngeal obstruction)

Vocal cord dysfunction, which is now called Inducible laryngeal obstruction (ILO), is where the vocal cords (or voice box) don’t open properly, making it hard to breathe. ILO and asthma often go together.

You might notice you feel breathless, you’re wheezing, or that your chest feels tight. You might also notice your throat feels tight, your voice is hoarse, or your breathing sounds high pitched.

ILO is usually diagnosed using a thin tube with a tiny camera on the end to look at the back of your nose, throat, and voice box.

ILO can be linked to having acid reflux too.

How ILO affects your asthma

ILO can make your asthma symptoms worse. And when your airways tighten due to an asthma trigger this may also trigger your ILO.

ILO can also be confused with asthma because some of the symptoms and triggers (like exercise, and stress for example) are similar. So, it can be hard to know if any symptoms you’re getting are because of your asthma or because of your ILO.

This can sometimes make it hard for doctors to give a clear asthma diagnosis. It also means there’s a risk of being wrongly told you have asthma.  

How to lower your risk of symptoms

  • Speech therapy can help relax your throat muscles
  • Relaxation techniques and breathing exercises
  • Talk about your ILO, alongside your asthma, at your asthma review, so you can be clear whether your symptoms are down to your asthma or not - and make sure it’s noted on your action plan 

Asthma-COPD overlap syndrome  

If you have lots of asthma attacks because your asthma isn’t well managed, you’re more at risk of developing COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

COPD is a condition where the lungs become inflamed and narrow.

Some common symptoms are wheezing, breathlessness, cough, and producing more mucus or phlegm than usual.

Smoking or long-term exposure to air pollution, fumes, and dust from the environment or your workplace are all risk factors for COPD.

Asthma-COPD overlap syndrome is where tests show evidence of both asthma and COPD.

How COPD affects your asthma

You’re more likely to have asthma symptoms and asthma attacks if you have asthma-COPD overlap syndrome.

How to lower your risk of symptoms

  • See your GP to make sure you get the right diagnosis and treatment
  • Manage your asthma well with regular asthma reviews
  • Stop smoking
  • Talk to your GP about possible occupational triggers
  • If you have severe asthma, your asthma specialist can talk you through how you can lower your risk of developing COPD

Bronchiectasis

People who have had asthma for many years, especially asthma that was either severe or difficult to manage, can sometimes go on to develop bronchiectasis. This is where your airways are scarred, inflamed, and produce a lot of mucus.

This mucus builds up and can become infected. If your airways get infected, it can mean your asthma is harder to manage because your airways get inflamed.

How bronchiectasis affects your asthma

Studies show that people with asthma and bronchiectasis are more likely to have asthma attacks and need hospital care than those with just asthma.

How to lower your risk of symptoms

Depression

People with long-term conditions like asthma, especially if they have severe asthma, are more likely to experience mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.

Obesity

Being obese puts you at risk of more asthma symptoms and you’re more likely to need your reliever inhaler. In older people, being obese may be a factor in why they got asthma in the first place. Find out more about the benefits of losing weight for your asthma.

Health conditions linked to side effects

Diabetes 2, osteoporosis, and adrenal insufficiency are associated with asthma because of the side effects associated with long-term high doses of steroids.

Need more support and advice?

We know that living with asthma and any other long-term condition can sometimes be challenging.

Call our Helpline on 0300 222 5800 to talk to a respiratory nurse specialist. Or you can WhatsApp them on 07378 606 728.

You can get advice about any other conditions affecting your asthma. You can also ask about any conditions linked to side effects from your asthma medicines.  

 

Last updated December 2020

Next review due December 2023