What Are Allergies?
Prepared by an Independent Sunrider Distributor. It is not the author’s intent to diagnose, prescribe or imply treatment. If you have a medical condition, consult a physician.
About 40 million people in the United States suffer from allergies, according to the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services.
Hay fever is one of the most common allergens. It can cause seasonal runny nose, stuffiness and itchy eyes. Dust, mold spores and other allergens can aggravate symptoms.
Allergies are overreactions of the immune system. People who have allergies have a hyper-alert immune system that overreacts to a substance in the environment called an allergen. Exposure
to what is normally a harmless substance, such as pollen, causes the immune system to react as if the substance is harmful. Allergies are a very common problem, affecting at least 2 out of every 10 Americans.
What Happens During an Allergic Reaction?
When a person with a hyper-alert immune system is exposed to an allergen, a series of events Takes place:
1. The body starts to produce a specific type of antibody, called IgE, to fight the allergen.
2. The antibodies attach to a form of blood cell called a mast cell. Mast cells are plentiful in the airways, and in the GI tract where allergens tend to enter the body.
3. The mast cells explode releasing a variety of chemicals including histamine, which causes
most of the symptoms of an allergy, including itchiness or runny nose.
If the allergen is in the air, the allergic reaction will occur in the eyes, nose, and lungs. If the allergen is ingested, the allergic reaction will occur in the mouth, stomach, and intestines. Sometimes enough chemicals are released from the mast cells to cause a reaction throughout the body, such as hives, decreased blood pressure, shock, or loss of consciousness. This severe type of reaction is called anaphylaxis and can be life-threatening.
What Are the Symptoms of Allergies?
Allergy symptoms can be categorized as mild, moderate, or severe (anaphylactic).
- • Mild reactions include those symptoms that affect a specific area of the body such as a rash or hives, itchy, watery eyes, and some congestion. Mild reactions do not spread to other parts of the
- • Moderate reactions include symptoms that spread to other parts of the body. These may include itchiness or difficulty breathing.
- • A severe reaction, called anaphylaxis, is a rare, life threatening emergency in which the body’s response to the allergen is sudden and affects the whole body. It may begin with the sudden onset of itching of the eyes or face and within minute’s progress to more serious symptoms, including varying degrees of swellings that can make breathing and swallowing difficult, abdominal pain, cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea. Mental confusion or dizziness may also be symptoms, since anaphylaxis causes a quick drop in blood pressure.
Does Everyone Have Allergies?
No. Most allergies are inherited, which means they are passed on to children by their parents. People inherit a tendency to be allergic, although not to any specific allergen. When one parent is allergic, their child has a 50% chance of having allergies. That risk jumps to 75% if both parents have allergies.
There are a number of different allergy-causing substances. The most common include pollen, dust mites, mold, animal dander, insect stings, latex, and certain food and medication. If you have an allergy your symptoms can range from mild eye irritation and congestion to a more severe reaction causing swelling and difficulty breathing. And, if you have asthma, a reaction to any offending allergy-causing substance can worsen your asthma symptoms. But, there are steps you can take to prevent and treat allergy attacks when they occur.
More and more people are developing allergies. Well-known allergic diseases include hay fever and eczema, and there is an allergic aspect to conditions such as asthma.
Exposure to pollen can trigger hay fever, or seasonal allergies. Symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, and itchy, watery eyes. Treatments include over-the-counter and prescription antihistamines.
Dust mites are microscopic organisms that live in house dust. House dust is a mixture of potentially allergenic materials including fibers from different fabrics, dander from animals, bacteria, mold or fungus spores, food particles, bits of plants, and others. Symptoms of dust mite allergy are similar to pollen allergy but often occur year round rather than just seasonally. Treatment may include medications such as antihistamines or decongestants. Prevent dust mite allergy by putting plastic covers over mattresses, using hypoallergenic pillows, washing sheets weekly in hot water and keeping all areas of the house, especially the bedroom, free of dust collecting stuffed animals, curtains, and carpet.
Molds are parasitic, microscopic fungi with spores that float in the air like pollen. Mold is a common trigger for allergies and can be found in damp areas such as basements
or bathrooms, as well as in grass, leaf piles, hay, mulch, or under mushrooms. Symptoms of mold allergies can occur seasonally, especially in the summer and fall or year round
if mold is in your home. Symptoms are like those of pollen and dust mite allergies and include sneezing, congestion, itchy and watery eyes, runny nose, and coughing. Treatments are the same as those for dust mites or pollen. Prevent mold allergies by avoiding activities that trigger symptoms, such as raking leaves. Keep windows and doors closed, and make sure moist places
in the home, such as the basement and bathrooms, are well ventilated.
Animal Dander and Cockroaches
Proteins secreted by oil glands in an animal’s skin, as well as the proteins present in an animal’s saliva, can cause allergic reactions in some people. Allergies to animals can take two or more years to develop and symptoms may not subside until months after ending contact with the animal. Symptoms include sneezing, congestion, and itchy and watery eyes. Treatments include avoiding exposure to animals that cause your allergies when possible. Medications such as antihistamines, decongestants, nasal steroids, or others may be helpful. Immunotherapy may be recommended if your symptoms are chronic. Cockroaches can cause similar symptoms. The treatments are the same. Prevent allergies to pet dander and cockroaches by removing the pet from the home, or at least the bedroom. Keep pets off upholstered furniture, wash the pet weekly. Cockroach allergy can be prevented by keeping trash in closed containers and taking it out regularly.
Everyone who gets stung by an insect will have pain, swelling, and redness around the sting site. However, people who are allergic to stings can have a severe or even life threatening
reaction. Symptoms of insect sting allergy include extensive swelling and redness from the sting or bite that may last a week or more, nausea, fatigue, and low-grade fever. On rare occasions, insect stings may cause a full-body allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Symptoms of anaphylaxis may include difficulty breathing, hives, swelling of the face, throat or mouth, wheezing or difficulty swallowing, restlessness and anxiety, rapid pulse, dizziness, or a sharp drop in blood pressure. For people who are severely allergic to insect stings, the medicine epinephrine should be administered soon after being stung to prevent the development of a life-threatening situation. Prevention is the best treatment. Minimize exposure to insects by not wearing brightly colored clothes and scented cosmetics and by keeping insecticide available, wearing shoes outdoors, and avoiding outdoor garbage. If you do get stung, remove the stinger. If you are at risk of anaphylaxis, get an epinephrine injection immediately. An oral antihistamine, like Benadryl, may be taken to reduce itching, swelling, and hives, and a pain-reliever may be taken and ice pack used to dull pain caused by the sting. Occasionally corticosteroid medicines are used to decrease swelling and inflammation. Insects that cause allergic reactions include various bees, fire ants, yellow jackets, hornets, and wasps.
Rubber gloves are the most common offending product for people with a latex allergy, but a latex allergy can also be triggered by latex in condoms and certain medical devices. Symptoms of latex allergy include skin rash, hives, eye tearing and irritation, runny nose, sneezing, cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, and itching of the skin or nose. Allergic reactions to latex can range from skin redness and itching to a much more serious reaction, called anaphylaxis which can cause difficulty breathing, hives, or sudden gastrointestinal problems.
Milk, fish and shellfish, nuts, wheat, and eggs are the most common foods that cause allergies. A food allergic reaction usually occurs within minutes of eating the offending food and symptoms, which can include asthma, hives, runny nose, vomiting, diarrhea, and swelling in the area around the mouth, can be severe. The best treatment is to avoid the offending food altogether; but when exposed, treatment with antihistamines or steroids is recommended. In life-threatening situations, an epinephrine injection is needed to reverse symptoms.
Some people develop allergies to certain medications, such as penicillin or aspirin. Symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening and can include hives, skin rash, itchy skin or eyes, congestion, and swelling in the mouth and throat. The best treatment of drug allergies is to avoid the offending drug altogether; however, when exposed, treatment with antihistamines
or steroids is recommended. Patients these days often have several allergic disorders. One third of Britons – some 18 million people – will develop allergy at some time in their lives. And certain severe ones are becoming more common. Peanut allergy alone affects one in 70 children. The number of people being admitted to hospital with allergies has shot up over the last decade, with some types increasing sevenfold. Why allergies should be on the increase is not clear. For relatively affluent countries like Britain, the very lifestyles that protect us from environmental challenges – everything from vacuum cleaners to double glazing – may mean we are not so well-equipped to respond to the new things we encounter.
In all cases, an abnormal immune response is at the root of the problem. The best advice for sufferers is to avoid the substances that cause the reaction.
Prevent hay fever symptoms by staying indoors when pollen counts are high, closing windows, and using air conditioning.
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