Understanding Asthma Allergic vs Non-Allergic

A large chunk of the UK’s population has asthma. Sophie Farooq, a Consultant Allergist, explains how to recognise triggers and how to manage the symptoms of this chronic illness.


According to Asthma + Lung UK, 5.4 million people in the UK have asthma. That’s one in every twelve adults and one in every eleven children. There is no cure for asthma but by recognising triggers and with good medical care, most patients with asthma are able to control the disease and get on with their lives.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic disease involving the airways (tubes) that carry air in and out of the lungs. These airways are inflamed and the inflammation makes the airways very sensitive. Therefore the tubes of patients with asthma often react to allergens or irritations.

Asthma symptoms may include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and trouble breathing– especially early in the morning or at night. In a severe asthma attack, the airways close so much that other vital organs in the body do not get enough oxygen.

How are asthma and allergies linked?

Allergy plays an important role in asthma, as one of the major factors associated with the cause and persistence of asthma. Around 80% of people with asthma have positive allergy test results. This means that allergens like dust mites, mould, animal dander and pollen make asthma symptoms worse. There are three main ways in which allergy plays an important role in asthma:

         Allergic inflammation in the airways

         Exposure to allergens triggering an asthma attack

         Allergic rhinitis or inflammation in the nose. People with allergic asthma often suffer from these conditions. And if their nose is inflamed that can worsen the symptoms in their chest too.

However, there are other triggers of asthma too including respiratory infections, exercise, cold air, smoke, and strong odours. These triggers can affect people with both allergic and non-allergic asthma.

The only way to find out whether you have allergic asthma or not is by allergy skin prick tests and blood tests.

How can OneWelbeck help with asthma?

At OneWelbeck Lung Health, we offer many treatments to diagnose and test for allergens.

We offer the opportunity for all our patients with asthma to see an allergy specialist and to undergo allergy skin prick testing.

We also offer more specialised tests to assess the strength of the breathing muscles, the degree of inflammation (a FeNO test) and finally we can assess the airways response to “provoking” agents to try to bring out a diagnosis of asthma.

We also offer spirometry, a lung function test that requires the patient to breathe in and out of specialised equipment to measure rates of airflow through the airways. This process measures the volume of the lungs at full capacity, at rest and at their most empty; and, finally, measures the ability of the lung to exchange gases with the bloodstream. This requires an element of cooperation with the physiologist who will guide you through it and give you multiple attempts. It is important if you do not understand instructions well in English to arrange an interpreter or bring someone with you who can help.

Written by Dr Sophie Farooque

Dr Farooque was the first National Trainee in Allergy in the UK and has been working as a NHS Consultant Allergist since 2010. Highly experienced in all aspects of allergy, she has a particular interest in rhinitis and drug allergy and is known for her professional and empathetic approach.