Allergies

Overview:

Allergies occur when your immune system reacts to a foreign substance (pollen, pet dander etc.), or a food that doesn’t cause a reaction in the majority of people. Immune systems produce a substance known as antibodies. When someone has allergies their system makes antibodies that flag a certain allergen as harmful even though it isn’t. Upon contact with an allergen your immune system reacts in a way that can inflame your sinuses, skin, digestive system, or airways. Allergy severity fluctuates depending on the individual and can range from minor irritation to anaphylaxis which is a potentially life threatening emergency. While most of the time allergies are incurable, there are allergy treatments available to help relieve your symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms:

Depending on the substances involved, allergy symptoms can affect your sinuses and nasal passages, airways, digestive system, and skin. Reactions can also range from mild to severe, in some cases allergies can trigger a severe, life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.

Depending on the substance involved allergies can trigger different reactions.

Hay Fever (allergic rhinitis) can cause, watery, red and swollen eyes, stuffy runny nose, sneezing, itching of the roof of the mouth, eyes, and nose.  A food allergy can cause, swelling of the tongue, lips, throat, or face, hives, tingling in the mouth, and anaphylaxis.

An allergy to insect stings can cause itching or hives, cough, chest tightness, shortness of breath, wheezing. A drug allergy can lead to itchy skin, rash, anaphylaxis, wheezing, and hives. Atopic dermatitis (eczema) can cause skin to flake or peel, itch and redden.

Some allergies including those to food and insect stings can trigger a severe, sometimes life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis which can cause you to go into shock. Signs of anaphylaxis include: severe shortness of breath, skin rash, nausea and vomiting, a rapid and weak pulse, a drop in blood pressure, or a loss of consciousness.

Treatment:

An allergy begins when the immune system confuses a regularly harmless substance for a dangerous invader. Antibodies are produced by the immune system that are on alert for the allergen. When you get exposed to the allergen again these antibodies can release immune system chemicals (histamine) that cause allergy symptoms.

Common triggers for allergic reactions include: some foods (peanuts, tree nuts, fish, soy, milk, eggs, shellfish), medications (penicillin), airborne allergens (animal dander, mold, dust mites, pollen), latex or other substances you touch (it can cause skin reactions), insect stings (from a wasp or bee).

If you have any of the following you can be more at risk of developing an allergy: you are a child, have asthma or similar allergic condition, have a family history of allergies or asthma.

If you think you may have an allergy go talk to your doctor, they will run different tests depending on what your symptoms are. There is a skin test where a nurse or doctor will expose you to very small amounts of the proteins found in potential allergen to see if your skin reacts. There are also blood tests that measure the number of allergy-causing antibodies in your system, and a blood sample will be sent to a lab to test it for sensitivity to possible allergens.

There are different routes for allergy treatment including: allergen avoidance (your doctor will help you identify what you’re allergic to and how to avoid it), medication (depending on your allergy there are over-the-counter and prescription medications that can ease your symptoms and help to reduce your immune system’s reaction), and immunotherapy (a treatment involving the injection of purified allergen extracts generally done over a few years). There are also emergency epinephrine shots that some people with severe allergies need to carry with them as they can reduce symptoms during a severe allergic reaction until you are able to get emergency treatment.