People often ask us, “Is asthma an autoimmune disease?” Asthma is among the most common chronic conditions. It occurs due to an overreaction from the immune system. This is just like a class of diseases caused by the immune system’s response, called autoimmune diseases. To understand whether or not asthma is an autoimmune disease, first, we need to understand what autoimmunity is.

What is autoimmunity?

The immune system is present to fight off intruders in your body and prevent infection and disease. Autoimmunity is a malfunction of your immune system. When it occurs, your immune system antibodies attack your healthy cells, tissues, and other body’s normal constituents. Any disease that results from this type of immune response is termed an autoimmune disease. Some of them are:

  • Lupus
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Graves’ disease

Is asthma an autoimmune disease?

We know that an overactive immune response causes asthma. However, asthma is still not considered an autoimmune disease. This is because the processes that cause autoimmune diseases are different from those that cause asthma.

Most people with asthma have extrinsic asthma caused by an allergic reaction. This type of asthma results when allergens trigger your immune system. This makes your immune system overreact, which causes inflammation in the lungs and trouble breathing.

On the other hand, exercise, infections, or stress trigger asthma for some people, unlike extrinsic asthma. This type of asthma is called intrinsic asthma. Only 10-33 percent of all asthma cases are of this type. But this type is more likely to cause severe asthma.

How is asthma linked to the immune system?

Researchers are still finding the exact connection between asthma and the immune system. They believe the immune system has a part in asthma development and its response. Some think an immune response to viruses causes asthma. But we still need research to understand what causes intrinsic asthma because so many things can trigger it. Finding the potential link between asthma and the immune system can help patients, especially those who are sometimes more difficult to treat. It might be possible that we could treat patients with intrinsic asthma with the medicine used to treat autoimmune conditions.

How can asthma impact autoimmune disease?

We currently have limited research on the impact of asthma on autoimmune diseases. However, we know that certain triggers like extreme heat or cold, stress, or anxiety can trigger asthma and some autoimmune conditions alike. Some autoimmune diseases are more common for people with asthma. In fact, the chances of developing lupus, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and type 1 diabetes are slightly higher in people with asthma than others. But this doesn’t mean you are likely to develop an autoimmune disease just because you have asthma. We need more research to better understand this potential connection between the two conditions.

Contact your primary care professional

If you have any questions regarding asthma or breathing issues, please contact the Internal Medicine Diagnostic Center. Our primary care specialists will help you. Call us now to schedule an appointment at 281-252-8600 for Magnolia residents and 281-252-8600 for people living near Houston.

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