The Facts About Allergies and What You Can Do About Them

Source: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology

One out of six Americans suffers from allergic disease.  Millions of dollars are spent on medications, physician services and missed days from work and school.

What Exactly Is An Allergy?

You are well aware of what allergy symptoms an allergy produces in your body, but do you understand what an allergy is?  It is an abnormal over-reaction to an ordinarily harmless substance called an allergen.  When an allergen such as dust mites allergy, pollen (especially in seasonal allergies), or latex, is absorbed into the body of an allergic person, the person’s body views it as an invader.  This institutes a chain reaction of events.  The immune system’s white blood cells produce IgE antibodies.  These attach themselves to special cells called mast cells.  This causes a release of histamine which are potent chemicals.  It is the histamines which cause the runny nose, watery eyes, itching and sneezing.

What are some common allergies?

You can be allergic to one substance or several.  The most common allergens are mold, pollens, dust mites, animal dander with dog and cat allergy symptoms, food allergies such as wheat, gluten and peanut allergies,   medications, cockroach droppings and insect stings.

Is there only one type of allergic reaction?

You probably know the answer to this one from trading allergy stories with friends and acquaintances.  A variety of allergic reactions are possible depending on the allergen and how it gets into the body.

Eczema or atopic dermatitis is a non-contagious rash that itches.  It most often occurs on the hands, arms, legs and neck, but it can cover the entire body.  This condition is frequently related to allergies.

A reaction affecting areas of the skin which become red, itchy and inflamed after contact with allergens or irritants such as plants, cosmetics, medications, metals and chemicals is called contact dermatitis.

Approximately 25 percent of the people in the U.S. will have an experience of having hives at least once.  Uticaria or hives are red, itchy, swollen areas of the skin.  They can vary in size and appear anywhere on the body.  The most common hive reaction is where the cause is identifiable as a reaction to a viral infection, medication, food or latex.  Some unfortunate people have chronic hives almost daily for months or years without an identifiable trigger.

Angioedema is a swelling of the deep layers of the skin.  It is not red or itchy.  It most often occurs in soft tissue such as eyelids or mouth.  Hives and angioedema may occur together or separately.

What exactly is an allergist?

An allergist/clinical immunologist is a pediatrician or internist who has spent two to three years of specialized training in the diagnosis and treatment of allergic and immunologic disease.   A first office visit with this type of doctor usually consists of giving a personal history including a detailed record of the illness, family history, a description of home and work or school environments.  Then the doctor will start allergy testing you by injecting minute amounts of allergens into your skin.   An allergist can help you create a safe management plan so that you might better control your environment.  Proper medication and perhaps immunotherapy may be included in this plan.

It is worthwhile to get screened by an allergist even if you have decided to forego conventional treatments and pursue natural allergy relief because he or she can provide suggestions for better managing your environment and your allergies.

What is immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy or “allergy shots” is recommended for patients who have symptoms for most of the year that are moderate to severe.  These are usually patients who do not respond sufficiently to medications, and whose symptoms are set off by allergens that are hard to avoid such as pollens or house dust mites (no matter how clean you keep your house).

Immunotherapy is used to treat patients who are sensitive to inhaled allergens such as pollens, molds, animal dander and house dust.  It also works well for those with insect allergies such as bee stings.  It is not recommended for food allergies because food allergies can be life threatening and there is a chance of a severe allergy reaction to the injection.

Can I ever be cured of my allergies?

The allergy tendency is genetically inherited.  Don’t look for a cure, but do work towards keeping your allergies under control.  Early detection, proper usage of medications and simple allergen avoidance techniques will keep allergies under control.


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