Allergies health facts
- A person’s immune system helps protect the body from illness by releasing antibodies that fight off viruses and bacteria. When the body reacts to non-harmful substances by releasing antibodies, it causes allergies.
- Depending on what a person is allergic to, allergic reactions may involve skin irritation, swelling of the throat or tongue, digestive problems or runny nose.
- Most allergies are chronic, which means people will have allergic reactions to the same things their whole lives.
- People can be allergic to a number of things, including food, insect bites, certain medications, mold, pollen, dust and more.
- Some allergies can be life-threatening. These types of allergies often cause a reaction called anaphylaxis, which affects many parts of the body at once.
- Allergies can be treated by avoiding the allergen or by using over-the-counter or prescribed medications.
What causes allergies?
An allergic reaction occurs when a person’s immune system reacts to something such as pet dander, pollen, bee venom or food that does not cause a reaction in most people. Each person’s immune system produces antibodies to fight infections but in people with allergies, the antibodies identify a particular allergen as harmful, even though it is not. This can cause a reaction of inflamed skin, sinuses, airways or digestive system.
People can be allergic to a range of environmental substances, including the following:
- Pet dander.
- Bee stings or other insect bites.
- Different foods.
- Plants and pollens.
The severity of allergy symptoms varies from person to person and can include itchy and watery eyes, a rash, hives or anaphylaxis, which occurs when the whole body reacts to an allergen within seconds or minutes. Anaphylaxis is potentially life threatening, but can be reversed with quick treatment.
Other symptoms of allergies include:
- Skin reactions.
- Constricted airways and a swollen tongue or throat.
- Weak and rapid pulse.
- Vomiting or diarrhea.
- Dizziness or fainting.
If a person is experiencing any of the above symptoms on a regular basis, he or she should seek medical care right away to determine the cause of the reaction.
Allergy testing: what is an allergy test?
We first try to determine a cause of allergies by asking patients about what they’ve eaten or where they’ve been. If a cause cannot be determined through discussion, we can order an allergy skin test. This test is noninvasive and involves introducing a large variety of common allergens in very small quantities to an isolated portion of the patient’s skin.
If we see a reaction in the zone of a certain allergen, we can recommend a plan to avoid the allergen and steps to take when a reaction occurs.
In some cases, a person may be able to prevent allergies by simply avoiding the thing he or she is allergic to. In other cases, the allergen cannot be avoided because it is in the air or commonly found in the person’s environment.
For allergies that cause itchy eyes, sinus congestion, wheezing or sore throat, the following treatments can help alleviate symptoms:
- Allergy eye drops.
- Nasal sprays.
- Leukotriene inhibitors.
- Mast cell inhibitors.
Doctors recommend that those who have anaphylactic reactions to allergens carry an EpiPen. An EpiPen is an injectable device containing epinephrine that when injected helps to reverse an allergic reaction.