Allergies are abnormal immune system responses. They occur when your immune system reacts to harmless substances such as pollen, pet dander, molds, weeds and so on.These harmless substances are known as allergens. Coming into contact with these allergens can cause inflammation on the skin, digestive system or sinuses. Severity of allergies range from mild like runny nose to severe like difficulty breathing. In rare cases allergic reaction can be life threatening. This allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis and can present symptoms like difficulty swallowing, breathing difficulty, swelling of the lips, tongue, and throat or loss of consciousness. Most allergies cannot be cured however there is treatment available to relieve your symptoms.
Allergies occur when the immune system views harmless substances as foreign invaders and produce an immune response against them. The immune system produces IgE antibodies against these allergens. These antibodies causes certain cells in the body to release certain chemicals such as histamines. The histamines in turn acts on the nose, skin, eyes, gastrointestinal tract and throat to cause allergy symptoms.
Some common allergens include the following :
- certain foods such as peanut, soy, fish,sea food, milk and meat
- medications especially penicillin or penicillin-based antibiotics
- airborne allergens such as pollen, molds, dust mites and animal dander
- insects bites such a bee bites
- chemicals such as household detergent and cosmetics
Allergy symptoms depends on the type of allergen involved and severity range from mild to life threatening.
Some of the common symptoms of inhaled or skin allergens include :
- running nose
- itchy, watery eyes
- hives ( a rash with raised red patches)
- feeling tired
Food allergies may cause
- swelling of the lips, tongue, face or throat
- tingling mouth
Some common drug allergic reaction are :
- swelling face
- itchy skin
Insect skin allergies may cause :
- shortness of breath
Anaphylaxis is life threatening and requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms can progress rapidly. This type of allergic reaction can cause you to into shock and symptoms include loss of consciousness, dizziness, shortness of breath, rapid pulse, skin rash, nausea and vomiting.
Certain factors or condition puts one at risk of getting allergies.
Family history. Allergies can be inherited. Your risk increases if you have family members with allergies or asthma.
Child : Children are more susceptible to allergens than adults. They however outgrow these allergies.
Having asthma also increases your risk of getting other allergies
TEST AND DIAGNOSIS
You doctor will refer you to an allergist if he suspects you have an allergy. The allergist will then ask you detailed questions about your signs and symptoms and also perform a physical exam. You will then have a skin or blood test depending on the type of allergy.
Skin Test : Your skin is pricked. It is then exposed to proteins found in your potential allergen. Hives will develop at the site of exposure if you are allergic to the allergen.
Blood Test : To measure your immune system’s responds to a particular allergen, a blood test known as radioallergosorbent test (RAST) may be performed. It measures the amount of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies which is allergen causing antibodies in the blood stream.
Medications : Medications control allergy symptoms. They are not a cure. They just ease your symptoms. The medication used depends on the type of allergy.They can include over-the-counter or prescription medications in the form of oral medications, nasal sprays or eye drops. Common allergy medications include the following :
- leukotriene modifiers
- cromolyn sodium
In cases of severe allergies, your doctor will give you an emergency epinephrine to carry with you all the time. It is a fast-acting medicine that can help offset an anaphylactic reaction until you get emergency treatment.
Allergy shot ( Immunotherapy) : Receiving allergy shot of small amounts of allergen will help your body gradually develop non-allergen antibodies and undergo other immune system changes that help reduce reactions to allergens. Allergy shot only helps with airborne and insect bite allergies. It does not help with food allergies.
Avoiding allergens : The best way to prevent allergies is taking steps to avoid allergens in the first place.
Taking these precautionary measures will help prevent allergic reactions. These include :
Avoiding triggers : It is essential to avoid allergens that trigger your symptoms. Ways to prevent these allergens include
- keep pets out of certain rooms like bedroom and bath pets. In severe cases, avoid pets altogether
- clean frequently
- keep windows closed when pollen season is at peak.
- remove carpets or rugs from rooms to reduce dust collection.
- avoid damp areas like basement and keep bathrooms clean and dry to avoid molds.
- if you are allergic to dust mites, use special covers to seal pillows ans mattresses
Allergies can present some unpleasant complications. Some of these include
Having one allergy increases your risk of getting another allergy or asthma. You are also at risk of getting skin, ears, lung and sinus infection.