An allergy is the immune system response to a foreign substance that’s not actually harmful to your body. These foreign substances are called allergens. They can be inclusive of certain foods, pollen, or pet dander.
Your immune system’s duty is to keep you healthy by fighting infection and other harmful pathogens. It does this work by attacking anything it thinks could put your body in danger. Depending on the allergen, this response may involve inflammation, sneezing, or a host of other signs and symptoms.
Your immune system normally adjusts to your environment. For example, when your body meets something like pet dander, it should realize it’s harmless. In people with dander allergies, the immune system gets this as an outside invader threatening the body and attacks it.
Allergies are common, and several treatments can assist you avoid annoying and troublesome symptoms.
Causes and types of allergies
Researchers aren’t completely sure why the immune system causes an allergic reaction when a normally harmless foreign substance enters the body.
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Allergies have a genetic parts, meaning that they can be passed down from parent to child. However, only a general susceptibility to allergic reaction is genetic. Specific allergies are not basically passed down. For example, if your mother is allergic to shellfish, it doesn’t necessarily indicate that you will be too.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, common kinds of allergens include:
- animal products: pet dander, dust mite waste, cockroaches
- drugs:penicillin, sulfa drugs
- foods:wheat, nuts, milk, shellfish, eggs
- insect stings:bees, wasps, mosquitoes
- mold: airborne spores from mold
- plants:pollens from grass, weeds, and trees, as well as resin from plants such as poison ivy and poison oak
- other:latex, metals
Seasonal allergies, also refered to as hay fever, are some of the most common allergies. These are created by pollen released by plants. They cause:
- itchy eyes
- watery eyes
- runny nose
When to see a doctor about allergies
Allergy signs can create many complications. Your doctor can help determine the cause of your symptoms as well as the difference between a sensitivity and a full-blown allergy. Your doctor can also teach you how to manage your allergy signs and symptoms.
For food allergies
Food allergies can cause swelling, hives, nausea, fatigue, and 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’re not sure why, see a medical professional as soon as possible. They can find the exact cause of your reaction or refer you to a specialist.
For seasonal allergies
Hay fever signs can mimic those of a cold. They include congestion, runny nose, and swollen eyes. Most of the time, you can manage these signs at home using over-the-counter treatments. See your doctor if your symptoms get unmanageable.
For severe allergies
Severe allergies can cause anaphylaxis. This is a life-threatening emergency that can result in breathing difficulties, lightheadedness, and loss of consciousness. If you’re experiencing these signs after coming in contact with a possible allergen, seek medical help immediately.
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How allergies are diagnosed
Allergies can be diagnosed in many ways. First, your doctor will ask about your signs and perform a physical exam. They’ll also ask about anything unusual you may have eaten recently and any substances you may have come in contact with. For example, if you have a rash on your hands, your doctor may ask if you put on latex gloves recently.
Process of elimination
Food allergies are typically diagnosed through a process of elimination. Your doctor may have you follow an elimination diet. This means you take out certain foods from your diet and then rate your symptoms. Then you slowly add foods back into the diet and record your symptoms in a food diary.
Your doctor may also recommend you to an allergist for testing and treatment. A skin test is a common type of allergy test carried out by an allergist. During this test, your skin is pricked or scratched with small needles containing potential allergens. Your skin’s reaction is recorded. If you’re allergic to a particular substance, your skin will become red and inflamed.
Your doctor or allergist may also need a blood test known as a radioallergosorbent test (RAST). Your blood will be tested for the presence of allergy-causing antibodies (cells that react to allergens).
The best way to avoid allergies is staying away from whatever triggers the reaction. If that’s not possible, there are treatment options available.
Allergy treatment are often inclusive of medications like antihistamines to control symptoms. The medication can be over-the-counter or prescription, depending on the severity of your allergies.
Allergy medications include:
- cromolyn sodium
- leukotriene modifiers
Many people go for immunotherapy. This requires several injections over the course of a few years to assist the body get used to your allergy. Successful immunotherapy can prevent allergy symptoms from returning.
If you have a severe, life-threatening allergy, you should carry an emergency epinephrine shot. The shot counters allergic reactions until medical assistance arrives. Common brands of this treatment include EpiPen and Twinject.
There are many natural treatments and supplements sold to treat allergies, but you should discuss these with your doctor before trying them. Some natural treatments may contain other allergens.
There is no way to keep allergies. But there are ways to stop the symptoms from occurring. The best way to prevent allergy symptoms is to avoid the allergens that trigger them.
Avoidance is the most effective way to stop food allergy symptoms. An elimination diet can help you know 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 found and how to avoid them. If you’re allergic to dust, for example, you can help reduce signs by installing proper air filters in your home, getting your air ducts professionally cleaned, and dusting your home regularly.
Proper allergy testing can assist you pinpoint your exact triggers, which makes them easier to avoid.