What are Allergies?
Stories of friends and family members unable to enjoy certain foods, participate in activities, or participate in particular environments are all too common.
In fact, 50 million Americans are estimated to have allergies. This means that a great number of people live with certain lifestyle ‘limitations’ by what we’ve come to know as an allergy, which is what an adverse reaction by the immune system to any foreign substance is called.
There is no clear apparent medical reason why people contract allergies, but one thing remains clear: the condition is indiscriminate in its coverage and may affect us regardless of age, gender, or race. Commonly, however, the allergy manifests in our infancy or childhood, although some symptoms may appear at any age or may reappear after any period of apparent inactivity.
Most allergies are largely insignificant and may be dealt with by simple lifestyle choices; however, there is a possibility of them either adversely affecting our daily life, or perhaps life- threatening conditions.
This is the reason why we must first understand how an allergic reaction happens, and more importantly, what we can do by ourselves or with the help of a doctor to detect allergies. In such a way, we will be able to make sure we are not on the threshold of any harm, but also enjoy life without having to worry about dramatic allergic reactions.
When allergies come to the fore, we usually say that it has been ‘triggered’, implying that the body has been exposed to a ‘trigger’ that activated the allergy from within. These ‘triggers’, known as potential allergens, may be animal fur and dander, feathers, mites, house dust, pollen, cockroach droppings, insect stings, chemicals (like perfumes, and even our everyday cosmetics like shampoos and soaps!) and dyes, medication, synthetic fiber, and a huge variety of food and drinks.
In the event of an allergy, our immune system, which normally wards off unwanted foreign substances in our bodies like parasites, bacteria, and dirt, mistakenly identifies common harmless objects (what we have identified as allergens earlier on) as something it must destroy. It then releases antibodies that cause bodily manifestations or ‘symptoms’.
Knowing what happens in our bodies, we can now better understand how to detect allergies when possible symptoms surface. In essence, we are familiar with some common symptoms that have been associated with allergies.
These include swollen, red, itchy lumps in the skin, tissue swelling, runny nose, rash, hives, watery or itchy eyes, and sneezing. Alone or in various combinations, you may consider these as symptoms of allergies if, when repeatedly exposed to certain substances, your body manifests any of the prior conditions. Some people, for example, notice increased appearance of these symptoms over seasonal changes.
These seasonal allergies may help you learn more about what particular allergens are being triggered. An allergic reaction that you may experience only upon the arrival of Spring may imply that you are allergic to grass, pollen, or a variety of other natural substances you may encounter when you are enjoying some outdoor activities that you only engage in during the Spring. Seasonal allergies are discussed in depth in an upcoming chapter.
How would you know if you have an allergy?
Allergy is a term broadly used in describing a reaction of body tissues that is unusual to a substance that has no distinctive or noticeable effect on other humans. According to studies, about 17 out of every 100 Americans are allergic, or hypersensitive, to some substances which are known to cause unusual reactions.
These substances, more known as allergens, range from various irritants, such as pollens, mold spores, insect venoms, animal dander, and house dust. There are some who are
allergic to substances in soap. Some react differently to the smell of a flower.
Below are the most common types of allergies.
– Food Allergies – ignited by certain food types
– Anaphylaxis – triggered by drugs, food, or insect stings – Respiratory Allergies – triggered by allergens which are airborn
– Contact Allergies – triggered by skin-affecting allergens – Insect Sting Allergies – triggered by insect venom
Here are mild as well as severe symptoms that are associated with these common types of allergy.
Since each person may have unique reactions from these allergies, your symptoms might vary or may have some or all of the listed reactions. Consult your doctor if the symptoms have become persistent or severe.
Symptoms of an allergy caused by certain food types usually happen within some minutes after you ingested food allergens, although there are some that would only occur after several hours. The symptoms may only happen to areas around the lips, mouth, and digestive tract, or could also involve other body areas. Foods that commonly result to allergic reactions are eggs, nuts, milk, fish, soy, shellfish, and wheat.
– Tingling, itching, or swelling of your mouth, tongue, lips, or throat
– Tightness feeling in your throat
– Difficulty speaking or swallowing
– Indigestion and abdominal cramps
– Vomiting and diarrhea
– Skin rashes
– Coughing, congestion, wheezing, or sneezing – Runny, stuffy, or itchy nose
– Breathing difficulties
– Sweating, dizziness, and faintness
– Rapid or sudden heart rate increase
– Sudden inability or hoarseness to speak
– Extreme and sudden facial itching and swelling – Anaphylaxis
Anaphylaxis is a severe, sudden, and potentially fatal reaction that has symptoms affecting various body areas. Symptoms commonly manifest very quickly after some exposure to allergens and may include extreme itching all over your body, total swelling of the body, respiratory distress, swelling, and may cause shock that is life endangering. Anaphylaxis requires urgent medical attention. The reaction is most commonly a result of drug, insect sting, or food allergies.
– Skin flushing
– Itching or tingling around your body
– Mouth swelling as well as in the throat area
– Difficulty breathing and swallowing
– Tightening of your chest
– Agitation, confusion, or lightheadedness
– Nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, or diarrhea – Irregular heartbeat
In some severe cases shock might occur. The swelling of your body’s bronchial tissues might cause you to choke before losing consciousness. An abrupt drop in your blood pressure as a result of dilated blood vessels might also cause you to lose consciousness.
In cases that cause anaphylactic shock, it is necessary that you get treatment immediately. Without prompt medical attention, anaphylactic shock might prove fatal.
Symptoms of respiratory allergies frequently occur after a few hours of exposure and usually trigged by allergens that are airborne like animal dander, plant pollens, mold spores, and dust mites.
– Wheezing or coughing – Sneezing
– Itchy throat or nose
– Postnasal drip
– Smell sense is impaired
– Hoarseness in the throat
– Red, itchy, swollen, or watery eyes
– Clogged or runny nose with thin and clear mucus – Conjunctivitis
– Shortness and difficulty in breathing
– Chest tightness and pain
Symptoms that occur as a result of contact allergies usually happen within a few minutes after your allergen exposure, although there are symptoms that may occur after several hours. Common allergens are poison ivy and poison oak, rubber, nickel, latex, preservatives, dyes, fragrances, medications, and cosmetics like perfume and hair dye. Nickel, a metal frequently used in buttons, jewelry, hairpins, zippers, metal clips and snaps, is the frequent source of the allergy. Sun exposure might also give you reactions.
– A bumpy or itchy rash
– Fluid-filled bumps on your skin – Swelling or redness of your skin – Hives
Insect Sting Allergies
Symptoms caused by insect sting allergies usually happen after a few minutes after you got stung, although there may be symptoms happening after some hours. Insect venoms cause these allergic reactions, like those from wasps, bees, hornets, fire ants, and yellow jackets.
– Pain, swelling, and itching at the area of the sting or at times, over larger body areas such as the forearm or entire hand
– Fatigue or nausea
– Hives, swelling, and itching in body areas apart from the area that got stung
– Chest tightness
– Difficulty of breath
– Tongue swelling
It is of paramount importance to know that many allergies have similar symptoms with other conditions and diseases. That is why it would be best to consult your doctor to assess you condition and give a proper diagnosis.
What Causes Allergies?
The immune system of a person with an allergy tries to combat allergens. It looks upon the small driftwood of everyday life – house dust, pollen, animal dander, and mold – as outsiders that are sure to do some dreadful damage.
In order to recognize and capture these strangers, it is important that people know who the culprits are. They should try to educate themselves on how allergies work and what causes them because these are the only means to find the solution to the problem.
Basically, allergies are agitated reactions of the immune system to certain foreign substances to the human body. These stuffs are known as “allergens.”
Allergens are then classified into four categories based on where they have come from. By knowing these four classifications of allergens, an individual could identify where he is allergic.
The four classifications of allergens are physical, biological, mental, and chemical. All of these four resources of allergens trigger even the slightest allergy in the human body. There are some people that heavily react to these allergens while others do not even realize they are having an allergic attack.
The first classification of allergens is physical. Here, allergens can come from technological devices such as infrared, microwaves and radio, atomic radiation, visible light, X-rays, ultraviolet light, etc.
The allergens that can be derived from these sources would bring on an allergic reaction to an individual who responds whenever they get in contact with any of these devices.
The second classification is the biological sources. Allergens can be derived from infections, food and beverages, plant and animal proteins, etc.
In this classification, biological sources are the main resource of allergens. Usually, the known culprits are the animal proteins in the animal dander or flakes of dead skin, urine, or saliva of the animal. These proteins are usually spread throughout the house wherever a pet roams.
Hence, even if there is no cat present in the room, a person who is allergic to these kinds of allergens will have an allergy attack because of the remains of the animal’s proteins.
The next classification is the allergens that come from mental sources. The allergy attack usually happens when the allergens are too excessive that it devastates the immune system. Hence, it is having difficulty to cope with its normal function.
No wonder why excessive emotions can also trigger an asthma attack, a known disease caused by allergies.
The last classifications are those that come from chemical resources. There are people who are allergic to some types of medications. That is why it is extremely important to test the product first before administering it to the patient to avoid more serious problems that might even cause death.
Knowing all of these causes of allergies is definitely important in order to avoid further problems. The first step in preventing contact with the numerous allergens is to figure out what they are.
After figuring them out, the next step is to stay away from them as much as possible. Ignorance of allergies and allergens will definitely cause serious trouble, especially if the problem is really risky.
This should be resolved because there are people who are not yet aware what causes their allergies. There are also instances wherein they do not know that allergens are already present in their home, and they do not know how to combat them.
For this reason, it is also important to submit a person for allergy testing, especially those who are showing visible signs of allergic reaction. This is when an allergy test can yield much useful information.
Normally, if a person is having persistent allergic symptoms, but he cannot isolate the allergen, it is a good idea to see an allergist, get tested, and find out what the allergens are. In this way, people can easily find out what causes their allergy and resolve the problem.
Who is at risk for allergies?
Among all known diseases, allergies are placed among the most universally manifesting diseases among humans. It does not discriminate among the individuals to be infected. People of all ages, gender, culture, nationality and skin color have equal chances of developing them.
Perhaps, the determining factor in the emergence of the symptoms characteristic of a specific type of allergy is the level of exposure to certain allergen.
Allergic people develop characteristic symptoms which are not found in a normal individual should they be exposed to a certain allergens.
For example, an individual allergic to dust develops typical condition such as sneezing, shortness of breath, abnormal or increased production of nasal and bronchial mucus enough to suffocate an individual.
Allergen is a type of antigen. Antigen is a particle which the body recognizes as foreign and attacks it via its own biological machineries.
Who are at Risk in Developing Allergies?
Not all individuals react the same to different allergens. While some individuals may only develop slight symptoms upon allergic attack, others exposed to the same dosage can become a life-threatening factor for them.
Through the study of allergies and allergic attacks, it is apparent that some individuals have a higher probability of acquiring an allergic condition compared to other individuals exposed to the same particle.
Each age level is particularly prone to a certain allergen. This fact should provide you with an idea on how you can at least minimize, if not perfectly avoid, the attack of allergy.
Age is one factor in the development of such condition since it is one of the critical stages by which an individual starts
biologically identifying the components of his or her surroundings. Younger individuals are more prone to developing allergic reactions to particulate materials in their environment.
Research shows that 7 to 8 out of 10 newly born infants have a large predisposition in acquiring hypersensitivity to anything in their surroundings. Moreover, 1 out of 7 American adults suffer from at least one type of allergic condition.
Record shows that more than 35 million Americans suffer from allergic rhinitis (discussed in an upcoming chapter;) developing extreme biological withdrawal for the presence of pollens. Some adults are allergic to food and other processed food products such as milk (lactose intolerance).
Some even develop allergic reactions among substances used in clothing such as color dyes and bleaching chemical agent (contact dermatitis) and other forms of medications such as penicillin and other antibiotics (drug hypersensitivity).
Some young adults who have experienced lesser attacks or were not put into any allergic state earlier in their life are apt to develop such condition should adequate trigger attacks (allergen particles) are present.
Current research at the Medical College of Georgia, Section of Allergy and Immunology shows that children who grew up with dogs and cats, typical allergic sources, have significantly shown to have lesser allergic tendencies than children who don’t have any pets at home.
More than 50% of the 474 children who were placed on an experimental study from birth until 7 years old did not develop allergic reactions to dogs and showed an increased resistance to outdoor allergens such as dust, fungus, and mites, among others.