More than 50 million people experience allergies every year. Impacting nearly 1 in 6 people, allergies are a common health issue. Allergies are the body’s reaction to typically non-threatening substances (pollen, specific foods, animal dander, etc.) that the immune system is triggered by. Various types of allergies produce mild to severe symptoms. Fortunately, there are useful ways that allergies are managed, alleviating symptoms.
What is an Allergic Reaction?
An allergic reaction is the body’s response to a foreign substance referred to as an allergen. There are a few ways people come into contact with an allergen: inhaling, eating, touching, etc. The immune system perceives these typically harmless substances as threatening. This then activates a process, intended to protect the body, that produces the symptoms we usually associate with allergies. The body responds to an allergen by creating allergic antibodies, called immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies are then responsible for finding allergens and eliminating them by causing certain types of cells to release chemicals into the bloodstream. The release of these chemicals (including histamine) causes the symptoms of an allergic reaction which can impact the eyes, nose, throat, gastrointestinal tract, and skin.
Symptoms of allergies can vary depending on the type of allergy and the person being impacted. Common symptoms include:
- Itchy, watery, swollen eyes
- Sneezing, congestion, or stuffy nose
- Scratchy throat or tightness in the throat
- Swelling, hives
- Stomachache, vomiting, fainting, coughing
- Difficulty breathing
The most severe symptom of an allergic reaction is anaphylaxis. It can happen as soon as someone is exposed to an allergen up to a few hours after. This is why if an individual has a severe allergy, it is incredibly important to carry epinephrine in the case of an emergency. Epinephrine acts immediately, reducing swelling and increasing blood pressure.
Common Types of Allergies
There is a wide range of substances that can cause allergies. Some of the most common types of allergies can be grouped into the following categories:
- Airborne. These types of allergies are airborne meaning they are carried through the air and inhaled: This includes:
- Pollen: pollen is the most common type of allergy. Often called hay fever, pollen is little particles released by trees, weeds, and grasses. These particles are released into the air to fertilize other plants. There are different types of pollen that are seasonal, hence why springtime allergies are common!
- Molds: exist in indoor and outdoor spaces that are warm and have more moisture. Molds are a type of fungi that tend to be seasonal. Mold can be found in drainage areas (compost piles for example) or moist indoor spaces like bathrooms and basements.
- Pet dander: shed skin and animal saliva can also be allergenic. Saliva from when pets lick themselves dries and become protein particles that become airborne.
- Dust mites: this is a year-round allergy that comes from microscopic insects that are part of dust found in living spaces.
- Food. Though any type of food can be an allergen, the most common food allergies consist of eight foods: cow milk, fish, shellfish, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, and soy.
- Other. Other common allergies include inset allergies, specific medicines (antibiotics being the most common), and chemicals (laundry detergents, household cleaners, dyes, etc.).
Effectively Managing Allergies
Allergies are typically diagnosed after conducting skin and/or blood tests. Though there are no cures for allergies, symptoms can be effectively managed using a variety of methods. Useful strategies include:
- Medicines: there are various types of over-the-counter medications that people can take to alleviate symptoms. This includes antihistamines and decongestants. Depending on the type of allergy and severity, a doctor would recommend allergy shots which helps desensitize an individual to an allergen. This type of immunotherapy is useful for airborne allergies, insect stings, and is not used for food allergies.
- Avoid exposure: it is important to avoid or reduce exposure to allergens as much as possible. There are various ways to do this including: not going outside when the pollen count is at its peak, keep areas that are more prone to mold clean and dry, always read food labels so you are aware of the ingredients, don’t allow dust to accumulate, etc.
Carrying necessary medications during peak allergy season or if you experience more severe symptoms is also important. Our team is here to help – contact us today to address your allergy issues!