Overview of an Allergies & Treatment
Allergy symptoms include itchy eyes and skin, sneezing, nasal congestion, wheezing, and rash. Seasonal allergies result from grass, weed, tree pollen, or molds. Cat and dog dander allergies are common. Food allergies include peanut or milk.
Allergies occur when your immune system reacts to a foreign substance — such as pollen, bee venom or pet dander — or a food that doesn’t cause a reaction in most people. Your immune system produces substances known as antibodies. When you have allergies, your immune system makes antibodies that identify a particular allergen as harmful, even though it isn’t. When you come into contact with the allergen, your immune system’s reaction can inflame your skin, sinuses, airways or digestive system. The severity of allergies varies from person to person and can range from minor irritation to anaphylaxis — a potentially life-threatening emergency. While most allergies can’t be cured, treatments can help relieve your allergy symptoms.
What Is an Allergy?
It’s what happens when your immune system reacts to something that’s usually harmless. Those triggers, which doctors call “allergens,” can include pollen, mold, and animal dander, certain foods, or things that irritate your skin.
Allergies are very common. At least 1 in 5 Americans has one. An allergy is an exaggerated reaction by the immune system in response to exposure to certain foreign substances. The response is exaggerated because these foreign substances are normally seen as harmless by the immune system in nonallergic individuals and do not cause a response in them. In allergic individuals, the body recognizes the substance as foreign, and the allergic part of the immune system generates a response.
Allergy-producing substances are called “allergens.” Examples of allergens include pollens, dust mites, molds, animal proteins, foods, and medications. When an allergic individual comes in contact with an allergen, the immune system mounts a response through the IgE antibody. People who are prone to allergies are said to be allergic or “atopic.”
What Happens During an Allergic Reaction?
It starts when you come into contact with a trigger that you inhale, swallow, or get on your skin.
In response, your body starts to make a protein called IgE, which grabs onto the allergen. Then histamine and other chemicals get released into the blood. That causes the symptoms you notice.
• Allergy involves an exaggerated response of the immune system, often to common substances such as foods, furry animal dander, or pollen.
• The immune system is a complex system that normally defends the body against foreign invaders, such as bacteria and viruses, while also surveying for abnormal changes in an individual’s own cells.
• Allergens are substances that are foreign to the body and that cause an allergic reaction.
• IgE is the allergic antibody. The other antibodies, IgG, IgM, and IgA, defend against infection.
• Although many individuals outgrow allergies over time, allergies can also develop at any age, including during adulthood.
• The environment plays a role in the development of allergy, as do genetics. There is a greater risk of developing allergic conditions if a person has a family history of allergy, especially in parents or siblings.
• People may have a higher risk of allergies if they are under 18 years old or have a personal or family history of asthma or allergies.
• Some researchersTrusted Source have suggested that those born by cesarean delivery may also have a higher risk of allergies, as they do not have exposure to the mother’s microbiome during childbirth.
How are Allergies Diagnosed?
If you think you have allergies, don’t wait to see if your symptoms go away. When your symptoms last longer than a week or two and tend to come back, make an appointment with an allergy/immunology specialist. Allergy skin testing may be used to identify the allergens that are causing your allergy symptoms. The test is performed by pricking your skin with an extract of an allergen, and then checking your skin’s reaction. If a skin test can’t be performed, blood work may be obtained. This test is not as sensitive as a skin test. The test evaluates the number of antibodies produced by your immune system. Higher levels of certain antibodies suggest possible allergy to that allergen.
The best way to avoid allergies is to stay away from whatever triggers the reaction. If that’s not possible, there are treatment options available.
Allergy treatment often includes medications like antihistamines to control symptoms. The medication can be over the counter or prescription. What your doctor recommends depends on the severity of your allergies.
Allergy medications include:
- antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- cetirizine (Zyrtec)
- loratadine (Claritin)
- cromolyn sodium (Gastrocrom)
- decongestants (Afrin, Suphedrine PE, Sudafed)
- leukotriene modifiers (Singulair, Zyflo)