Atopy is the strongest predisposing factor for developing asthma. It refers to the genetic predisposition for the immunoglobulin E (IgE)-mediated response that occurs in allergic diseases.
In this article, we will discuss atopy, asthma, and other predisposing factors for developing asthma and allergic disorders.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease that causes inflammation in the airways of the lungs. It is characterized by wheezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing.
It can vary with different levels of severity and can be triggered by a variety of stimuli, including allergens, exercise, cold air, and environmental pollution.
Asthma is a significant health problem worldwide and is the most common chronic disorder in childhood.
What is Atopy?
Atopy is a genetic predisposition to an immune response against allergens that leads to an overproduction of immunoglobulin E (IgE). As the concentration of the IgE antibody increases, it results in increased hypersensitivity reactions.
This explains why atopy is the strongest predisposing factor for asthma.
Some other atopic diseases include allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis, angioedema, urticaria, and anaphylactic shock.
Asthma Risk Factors
There are a number of factors that can predispose someone to develop asthma, including the following:
- Family history
- Air pollution
- Occupational exposure
- Viral respiratory infections
While these risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing asthma, as previously mentioned, atopy is the strongest predisposing factor.
Family history is important to consider when interpreting the risk of developing asthma. According to the American Lung Association, if one of your parents has asthma, you may be 3-6 times more likely to develop the disease.
This is due to genetic factors, such as atopy and the overproduction of immunoglobulin E (IgE).
Allergies are a common trigger of asthma symptoms, and it is believed that approximately 80% of people with asthma also have allergies.
The most common allergens that trigger asthma symptoms include:
- Animal fur
- Cold air
Each person with asthma will have different triggers, which should be avoided in order to prevent an acute exacerbation.
Smoking is a common asthma trigger, can worsen symptoms, and can increase the frequency of acute episodes. Studies found that people who smoke cigarettes are more likely to develop asthma than those who don’t.
Infants whose mother smokes while pregnant are also at an increased risk of developing asthma.
Air pollution can also worsen asthma symptoms and trigger an acute attack. Those who are born and live in urban areas with poor air quality have a higher risk of developing asthma.
Certain occupations put workers at an increased risk of developing asthma due to exposure to irritants and allergens. Some examples include:
- Chemical fumes
Long-term occupational exposure to these irritants can lead to the development of asthma. They can also trigger asthma episodes and make symptoms worse.
According to the CDC, over 76% of adults are considered to be overweight or obese. This is a significant problem because obesity has been linked to a number of chronic diseases, including asthma.
Studies found that obese individuals are more likely to develop asthma and have worse symptoms than those who are at a healthy weight.
This is because the excess fat in the thoracic region can compress the lungs and airways, making it more difficult to breathe.
Viral Respiratory Infections
Researchers found that children who experience viral respiratory infections are more likely to develop asthma later in life.
This can lead to wheezing and difficulty breathing, which are two of the most common symptoms of asthma.
Asthma is a complex obstructive disease that is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Atophy is a genetic predisposition that results in the overproduction of immunoglobulin E (IgE). This leads to allergic reactions and is the strongest predisposing factor for developing asthma.
When genetically predisposed infants are exposed to certain environmental factors, it could result in the development of asthma later in life.
This includes exposure to irritants and allergens, such as dust, smoke, and pollution. Again, this is especially true concerning fetal and early infant exposure.
Asthma Signs and Symptoms
The most common symptoms of asthma include:
- Shortness of breath
- Pursed-lip breathing
- Chest tightness
- Increased A-P diameter of the chest
- Increased accessory muscle usage while breathing
- Hyperresonant chest percussion note
During a severe episode, diminished breath sounds may be heard during auscultation. This indicates that complete obstruction is present, and there is a lack of air moving through the airways.
In addition, each patient may experience different symptoms depending on their triggers and the severity of their condition.
Allergic Rhinitis and Asthma
Most children who have been diagnosed with asthma have allergic rhinitis, which is a major risk factor for the disease.
Allergic rhinitis is an allergic reaction that occurs when the body comes into contact with a trigger, such as pollen or dust. This triggers the release of histamine, which leads to symptoms like sneezing, itchy eyes, and a runny nose.
For children with asthma, allergic rhinitis can trigger an asthma attack. This is because the histamine released during an allergic reaction can also cause the airways to constrict, making it difficult to breathe.
Therefore, it is important for children with asthma to avoid their triggers and to receive treatment for their allergies.
There are a number of predisposing risk factors for asthma; however, atopy is the strongest. This means that genetics play a pivotal role in the development of this obstructive disease.
If you have a family history of asthma or allergies, you may be at an increased risk of developing the disease. Additionally, smoking, obesity, and air pollution can also contribute to the development of asthma.
It is important to be aware of the risk factors for asthma so that you can take steps to prevent the disease or manage your symptoms if you have already been diagnosed.
It’s also important to avoid known asthma triggers, such as dust, smoke, and cold air, in order to prevent an acute exacerbation. If you have asthma, it’s important to work with your doctor to develop a treatment plan that works for you.
John Landry, BS, RRT
John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.
- “Section 2, Definition, Pathophysiology and Pathogenesis of Asthma, and Natural History of Asthma.” National Library of Medicine, Bethesda (MD): National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (US, Aug. 2007, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK7223.
- Vaillant, Angel A. Justiz, et al. “Atopy.” National Library of Medicine, Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing, Jan. 2022, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK542187.
- Ober, Carole, and Tsung-Chieh Yao. “The Genetics of Asthma and Allergic Disease: A 21st Century Perspective.” National Library of Medicine, Immunol Rev, July 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3151648.
- “Asthma Risk Factors.” American Lung Association, 23 Oct. 2020, www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/asthma/asthma-symptoms-causes-risk-factors/asthma-risk-factors.
- “The Link between Asthma and Weight.” American Lung Association, 20 July 2016, www.lung.org/blog/the-link-between-asthma-weight.
- “FastStats.” Overweight Prevalence, www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/obesity-overweight.htm.
- Toskala, Elina, and David W. Kennedy. “Asthma Risk Factors.” National Library of Medicine, Int Forum Allergy Rhinol, Sept. 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7159773.
- “Environmental Triggers of Asthma: Treatment, Management, and Prevention| Environmental Medicine | ATSDR.” Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/asthma/treatment_management_prevention.html.