Allergy is nothing but the reaction of the immune system to any substance that is not compatible with the body. The main task of immune system is to protect the body against any foreign invaders like bacteria, virus and dust and pollen. The substance that causes allergy in the body is known as allergens. Allergy is mainly caused by environment factors like dust, pollen and smoke. The immune system produces an allergic antibody called IgE whenever the body is prone to allergic substance.
Allergy can occur at any age and is common for all. An individual is at high risk of developing allergy if he/she has a family history. About 15-30% of employees working in industrial situations are affected by some kind of allergy. About 20-25% of Americans develop allergic rhinitis and it is reported that each year the amount spent for the purpose of allergy alone exceeds $3 billion. Roughly 8-10% of Americans develop asthma (due to allergy).
A person who is prone to allergy is known as “allergic” or atopic. Allergy related diseases are increasing steadily over the past two decades. Allergy can be defined as the response of the immune system to the presence of foreign substances like dust, pollen or pet dander. Normally for most of the people it may not cause any reaction but people with compromised immunity develop allergic reaction. The immune system would sense threat to the body when a person comes in contact with allergens and triggers the production of antibodies.
Many times antibodies are produced even if particular substance is not harmful to the body. Some of the common allergens are pollen, dust, bee venom, pet dander and smoke. Allergy can cause many reactions on the body like blocked nose, sinuses, skin rashes and disturbed digestive system. The degree of allergic reaction varies considerably from one person to another. For many people it can cause minor irritation but in rare cases it can cause anaphylaxis, a serious emergency condition. Allergy cannot be cured but the intensity of the symptoms can be managed.
Allergy Symptoms :
The symptoms of allergy vary with the part of the body that is affected. Allergic substances can invade your skin, nasal passage or even digestive system. Allergic symptoms range from mild to severe. Allergic rhinitis (hay fever) can cause sneezing, stuffy nose, swollen or red eyes and itching of nose or eyes. The tissues and soft mucus lining of the nose gets inflamed triggering sneezing and stuffy nose when exposed to dust mites or pollen.
Food allergy can trigger symptoms like swelling of lips, tingling sensation in your mouth, hives and in serious cases anaphylaxis. A sting or insect bite can produce symptoms like swelling in the site, itching, pain, shortness of breath or tightness in your chest if the poison is severe. Allergy produced by certain drugs can cause hives, severe itching, rashes, swelling of face, wheezing and shortness of breath.
Asthma can cause shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, breathing problem and wheezing. Allergic eyes or conjunctivitis can produce symptoms like watery eyes, redness of eyes, itchy eyes and swelling of eyes. The soft membranes of the eyes develop inflammation due to allergy causing the above symptoms. Hives or urticaria is a kind of skin allergy that causes red itchy welts on the body. Eczema or atopic dermatitis can cause severe itching, peeling of skin and raised itchy patches on the skin.
- Anaphylaxis :
It is a serious life threatening allergic reaction of the body caused by some allergens like poisonous foods, drugs and insect sting. It can cause symptoms like sudden loss of consciousness, reduced blood pressure, shortness of breath, severe skin rashes, weak pulse and nausea/vomiting.
Allergy Causes :
Allergy is the response produced by the immune system that senses any harmful substances. The immune system would produce antibodies and keeps the body in high alert for specific allergen and whenever the person gets in contact with the same allergen, antibodies are produced. Allergy can be caused by number of factors.
- Dust, smoke, pollen, pet dander and mold are some types of airborne allergies.
- For some people certain foods like milk, wheat, tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, sesame oil and soy foods can cause allergy.
- Certain medications like penicillin and common drugs like Ibuprofen and aspirin can cause allergic reactions.
- Insect stings, bee venom and snake bite can cause allergy.
- Certain substances like latex and some kind of plants can cause skin allergy.
Who Are At Risk?
Allergy can occur to anyone. But some factors like having a family history of allergy or asthma, very young age or old age (weakened immunity) and having asthma increases the risk of developing allergy. In most of the cases allergy does not cause any complications. But in severe type it can cause anaphylaxis, a life threatening condition that needs emergency treatment.
Your doctor would complete physical exam and look for the above symptoms. He may order for blood test to measure the antibodies IgE in the blood, skin test for checking any hives and any other tests necessary.
Allergy Treatment :
Allergy cannot be cured but the symptoms can be managed. Based on your allergic symptoms, your doctor would ask you to avoid certain foods or medications or dust prone environment. Firstly you should understand the factors that trigger allergic symptoms. Avoid such situations that causes allergy so that you can control the symptoms. Over the counter medications or prescription drugs are available for suppressing the response of immune system. You can use nasal drops or sprays for controlling the sinuses or rhinitis that develop due to allergic reaction.
Similarly eye-drops can be used for managing conjunctivitis caused by allergic inflammation of eyelids. Avoiding certain type of foods can help you in managing food allergies. Immunotherapy is given for treating severe allergic symptoms. Allergen extracts are given either in the form of oral pills or injections for specific period or until your symptoms improve. Pills like sublingual drugs can be kept under the tongue for managing pollen allergies. For severe case of allergy your doctor would give you a shot of epinephrine. Some people would carry prescribed doses of epinephrine to manage the symptoms of allergy in emergency situations.
Home Remedies and Changes In Lifestyle :
Wash the bedding clothing frequently so that you can reduce the allergic symptoms caused by dust mites. Maintain low humidity level in the room and use vacuum cleaner regularly to keep the room clean and dry. Clean your carpets regularly and if you are still developing symptoms of allergy you can switch over to hard flooring. Keep your pets clean and dust-free to prevent pet dander in your family.
Dehumidifiers can be installed in your bathrooms and kitchen to manage moisture based allergens. Sinusitis develops due to continuous exposure to allergens in air. You can use nasal saline irrigation method or simply use a neti pot for inhaling warm air which will reduce the symptoms of nasal congestion. It is very effective in managing thickened mucus and stuffy nose. Hay fever symptoms will improve with this simple home remedy.
Once you know the cause of allergic symptoms you can surely avoid it. A person who is allergic to pollen should stay indoors in the period when pollen drops are high. By keeping your house clean and dry you can prevent dust mites allergy. You can prevent food allergy by avoiding certain type of foods that triggers symptoms. You can note down what exactly produces allergic symptoms so that you can avoid such foods totally.