Allergies are a major cause of illness in the United States. As many as 50 million people have allergies. Allergies exist in many different forms. Allergy symptoms range from making you miserable to putting you at risk for life-threatening reactions.
According to leading experts in allergens, an allergic reaction begins in the immune system. Our immune system protects us from invading organisms that can cause illness. If you have an allergy, your immune system mistakes an otherwise harmless substance as an invader. This substance is called an allergen. The immune system overreacts to the allergen by producing Immunoglobulin antibodies. These antibodies travel to cells that release histamine and other chemicals, causing an allergic reaction. In other words, an allergy is a reaction by your immune system to something that does not bother most other people.
People who have allergies often are sensitive to more than one thing. Substances that often cause reactions are:
- Animal products – These include pet dander, dust mite waste and cockroaches.
- Drugs – Penicillin and sulfa drugs are common triggers.
- Foods – Wheat, nuts, milk, shellfish and egg allergies.
- Insect stings – Bees, wasps and mosquitoes.
- Mold – Airborne spores from mold can trigger a reaction.
- Plants – Pollens from grass, weeds, and trees, as well as resin from plants such as poison ivy and poison oak, are very common plant allergens.
- Other allergens – Latex which is often found in latex gloves and condoms and metals such as nickel are also common allergens.
An allergic reaction typically triggers symptoms in the nose, lungs, throat, sinuses, ears, lining of the stomach or on the skin. For some, allergies can also trigger symptoms of asthma. In the most serious cases, a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis can occur.
Food allergies can trigger swelling, hives, nausea, fatigue and much more. It may take a while for a person to realize that they have a food allergy. If you have a serious reaction after a meal and you are not sure why, see a medical professional immediately. They can find the exact cause of your reaction or refer you to a specialist.
For seasonal allergies:
Hay fever symptoms can mimic those of a cold. They include congestion, runny nose and swollen eyes. Most of the time, you can manage these symptoms at home using over the counter treatments. See your doctor if your symptoms become unmanageable.
For severe allergies:
Severe allergies can cause a life-threatening emergency that can lead to breathing difficulties, light headed and loss of consciousness. If you are experiencing these symptoms after encountering a possible allergen, seek medical help immediately.
If you or your child have allergy symptoms, an allergist, can help with a diagnosis. An allergist has advanced training and experience to properly diagnose your condition and prescribe an allergy treatment and management plan to help you feel better and live better.
Effective treatment of allergic asthma includes identifying and avoiding allergens that trigger symptoms, using drug therapies and developing an emergency action plan for severe attacks.
Consultation and Testing : Your first step is to see a board-certified allergist-immunologist.At your appointment, your allergist may perform skin or blood tests to determine what type of allergic disease you have and the causes of your symptoms.
Medication: There are many medicines that can help control allergy symptoms. Decongestants and antihistamines are the most common allergy medications. They help to reduce a stuffy nose, runny nose, sneezing and itching. Other medications work by preventing the release of the chemicals that cause allergic reactions.
Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy involves giving gradually increasing doses of the substance, or allergen, to which the person is allergic. The incremental increases of the allergen cause the immune system to become less sensitive to the substance, probably by causing production of a “blocking” antibody, which reduces the symptoms of allergy when the substance is encountered in the future.
Emergency epinephrine: If you have a severe, life-threatening allergy, carry an emergency epinephrine shot. The shot counters allergic reactions until medical help arrives. Common brands of this treatment include EpiPen and Twinject.
The best way to prevent allergy symptoms is to avoid the allergens that trigger them. Avoidance is the most effective way to prevent food allergy symptoms. An elimination diet can help you determine the cause of your allergies so you know how to avoid them. To help you avoid food allergens, thoroughly read food labels and ask questions while dining out.
Preventing seasonal, contact, and other allergies comes down to knowing where the allergens are located and how to avoid them. If you are allergic to dust, for example, you can help reduce symptoms by installing proper air filters in your home, getting your air ducts professionally cleaned, and dusting your home regularly.