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An allergy is a hypersensitive response from the immune system to substances that either enter or come into contact with the body. These substances, commonly known as allergens. Your immune system is responsible for defending the body against bacteria and viruses. When it reacts to substances that typically don’t pose a threat to the human body, an allergy may occur.
Allergies can stem from an inherited gene or be acquired from environmental influences. Type and severity of allergies may depend on genes, environmental influencers or age. According to American College Allergy Asthma Immunology (ACAAI), children aged 0-4 are most likely to have skin allergies. It is also possible to develop allergies in adulthood. Adult-onset allergies can occur due to exposure to new allergens in the environment, family history, and changes in the immune system. “Contrary to popular belief, adults with no history of food allergies can unexpectedly develop them.” (Texas Medical Center)
An allergic reaction occurs when cells in the immune system overreact to allergens. Substances that often cause reactions are pollen, dust mites, mold spores, pet dander, food, insect stings, and medicines. There is no cure for allergies but you can manage them with prevention and treatment. While some allergies are manageable, others can be serious and life-threatening.
Allergies and asthma often occur together. The same substances that could trigger allergic reactions like pollen, dust mites, pet dander and food, may also cause asthma symptoms. This is called allergic asthma or allergy-induced asthma. Common symptoms of allergies and asthma are watery and itchy eyes, sneezing, runny nose, congestion, scratchy throat, rashes, and hives.
Allergic sinusitis is a reaction to exposure to inhalants such as dust, pollen, smoke, and animal dander. Depending on the severity, symptoms of allergic sinusitis may include nasal congestion, itchy eyes, runny nose, sore throat, headache, facial pain and fever. Sinusitis can be acute, lasting less than four weeks or chronic, lasting longer than three weeks. Chronic sinusitis can last for months or years if left untreated.
Anaphylaxis causes your immune system to release a flood of chemicals that can cause you to go into shock. In anaphylaxis, your blood pressure drops suddenly and your airways narrow, blocking breathing. Signs and symptoms include a rapid and weak pulse, skin rash, nausea, and vomiting. Common causes of anaphylactic reaction are numerous and include medication, peanuts, tree nuts, insect stings, fish, shellfish, and milk. Many cases are mild but if not treated immediately, it can result in serious complications, and can even be fatal. It can occur within seconds or minutes of exposure to something you’re allergic to. Anaphylaxis requires immediate medical treatment. Individuals with allergies or asthma and have family history of anaphylaxis are at a higher risk of anaphylaxis.
Nasal polyps are soft, painless, noncancerous growths on the lining of your nasal passages or sinuses. Their symptoms include runny nose, nasal stuffiness, reduced sense of smell, and facial pressure. Nasal polyps are linked to chronic inflammation, asthma, allergic rhinitis, recurring infections, drug sensitivity, and certain immune disorders. Nasal polyps are often part of a chronic entity but do not necessarily evolve into a more serious condition over time. Treatment should be based on the patients' specific problems and symptoms due to their nasal polyps.
Seasonal allergies result from exposure to airborne substances that appear only during certain times of the year. Seasonal allergies affect millions worldwide throughout the year in every season – from spring, summer, fall and winter. Depending on your allergy triggers and where you live, you may experience allergies in more than one season or year-round.
Tree pollens and mold spores are responsible for most springtime seasonal allergies. They can cause uncomfortable symptoms such as a runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes and nose, and dark circles under the eyes. They can also cause complications like sinus infections and asthma attacks.
According to the American college of allergy, asthma and immunology (ACAAI), pollen counts tend to be high during the spring and dissipate in early summer. Although, weather conditions affect different types of pollens’ peak times. The major culprits of summer allergies are insect stings, grasses, weeds and mold. Summer baseball games may even be a hazard zone when it comes to those with peanut allergies. The symptoms of summer allergies are the same as spring allergies. To prevent summer allergies, keep your doors and windows closed to control your indoor air with mechanical ventilation, such as an air purifier.
Cool autumn air harbors irritants that can be just as unpleasant leading to fall allergies. Ragweed pollen, mold, and dust mites are big allergy triggers in the fall. Common symptoms include itchy eyes, asthma, scratchy throat, diarrhea, and skin allergies. When the season is at its peak, it is best to stay indoors to avoid any complications.
Allergens such as dust mites, animal dander, cockroach droppings, and airborne dust particles are worse in winter when there is less ventilation. Some common symptoms of winter allergies are sneezing, stuffy nose, coughing, postnasal drip, and itchy eyes and throat. To minimize allergen exposure in winter, you can use a humidifier that may help reduce dryness in the air. Clean, dust, and vacuum your house regularly and wash sheets weekly in hot water. Maintain proper hygiene to avoid allergy triggers.
Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, is caused by an allergic response to outdoor or indoor allergens, such as pollen, dust mites, and pet dander. Some common symptoms include sneezing, congestion, coughing, sinus pressure, watery eyes, itchy nose, sore throat, and fatigue. Hay fever has similar symptoms to a common cold. Hay fever can last for as long as you’re exposed to allergens.
Tens of millions of Americans suffer allergy symptoms caused by exposure to tree, grass and weed pollens. Pollen is one of the most common triggers of seasonal allergies. Pollens that commonly cause allergies come from trees, weeds and grasses. Pollen allergy symptoms often include nasal congestion or runny nose, cough, itchy throat or eyes, and swollen and bluish-colored skin beneath the eyes. Allergy symptoms can be managed, and may worsen depending on the season and type of pollen allergy you have.
The symptoms of mold allergy are very similar to the symptoms of other allergies, such as sneezing, coughing, and scaling skin. Mold spores may also reach the lungs and trigger asthma. To prevent or reduce an allergic reaction to mold there are many actions you can take such as limiting outdoor exposure, wearing a mask while doing yard work, lowering indoor humidity, using an air cleaner or humidifier, and paying attention to any locations that are more susceptible to mold or mildew.
Dust mite allergy symptoms may include sneezing, runny or congested nose, and itchy eyes. If your dust mite allergy triggers your asthma you may also experience chest tightness or pain, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. Some of the best ways to prevent dust mite allergies include washing your sheets and blankets in hot water and whenever possible, avoiding or replacing fabrics in your home that dust mites love, and cover mattresses and pillows in dust-proof covers.
Allergic reactions to pets include swelling of the membranes that line our eyes and nose, stuffy nose and inflamed eyes. Pet allergens include their urine, saliva and dander (skin shed by animals). If you see that these symptoms occur in correlation to exposure to an animal, it is likely you have an allergy to them. The best way to avoid pet allergies is to avoid pets. However, we understand if you still want a pet. In that case, there are treatments and hypoallergenic pets available. Although there are no truly hypoallergenic breeds of dogs, cats, bird and other mammals, there are breeds considered hypoallergenic due to their reduction in the amount of allergens produced.
To pinpoint the allergy problem and determine the treatment, your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and habits. Finding the cause of allergies helps identify Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to specific antigens or allergy triggers. Various tests are also done to eliminate certain allergens from your environment and re-introduce them to see if a reaction occurs.
Allergy skin testing consist of exactly what it sounds like, tests for allergies by using the skin and observing the results on an individual’s skin. Skin testing is typically done at a doctor’s office. A nurse generally administers the test and a doctor interprets the results. A skin prick test checks for immediate allergic reactions to as many as 50 different substances at once. This test is usually done to identify allergies to pollen, mold, pet dander, dust mites, and foods. With this test, the area of skin being tested will be cleaned with alcohol and then pricked with a small needle with allergen. A skin injection test uses a needle to inject a small amount of allergen into the skin to test for allergic reaction to the area(s). A patch test does not use a needle like the skin prick or skin injection. Instead, allergens are attached to the patch and placed on the skin. The patch test generally takes longer to see results than the other two tests. Some skin testing requires only 15 to 25 minutes to get the results while others take more time and need two visits to your doctor.
Allergy blood tests detect and measure the number of allergen-specific antibodies or IgEs in your blood. An increased total IgE level indicates that it is likely that a person has one or more allergies. During the blood test, an allergy specialist will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm and send it to a laboratory for analysis. The results will be sent back a few days later.
Medication is one of the most commonly discussed forms of treatment for allergies. The best way to prevent allergy symptoms is by limiting your exposure. However, there may be circumstances where allergens are unavoidable and allergy symptoms are problematic or life-threatening. You should seek medical care for allergies if you are experiencing severe skin rashes, hives, or other allergy symptoms. Allergy medication can be over the counter or prescription. Allergy specialists will recommend specific medication depending on the severity and symptoms of your allergies. Common allergy medications include antihistamines, corticosteroids, and decongestants, to name a few. Consult a doctor, or more specifically an allergy specialist to find out what is best for you and your allergies.
Preventing allergy symptoms may allow you to reduce or eliminate the need to for treatment. Depending on your allergies, there may solutions out there for you.
Humidifiers may help those with nasal congestion or postnasal drip. It is important to regularly clean the humidifier in order to prevent any development of mold or mildew, which could worsen symptoms.
For those who are aiming to lower the humidity in their home, a dehumidifier is a good choice. Dehumidifiers take moisture out of the air and may protect your home from allergens, such as mold growth and thriving dust mites. Dehumidifiers may range from portable to whole house, depending on how large of an area you would like to target.
Dust mites, mold spores, pollen, and pet dander in the air inside your home can cause symptoms if your family has allergies or asthma. Air purifiers that make use of high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration, are able to capture high percentages of allergens resulting in help to bring allergy relief.
There are many ways to keep a home clean and allergy-free or reduced. Keep your house clean and your allergies under control by regularly vacuuming, de-cluttering, washing linens, and keeping all the areas of your house dust- and mold-free. Make sure to wear a mask when cleaning to avoid irritations. A clean house can go a long way to prevent allergies.
While many allergens are known to attach to fabrics, dust mites are most common. Hundreds of thousands of dust mites can live in the bedding, mattresses upholstered furniture, carpets or curtains in your home. Wash all sheets, blankets, pillowcases, and sofa or bed covers in hot water to kill dust mites and remove allergens. You can also use dust mite-proof covers to reduce asthma-related symptoms.
Bedrooms have the potential to host allergens in several places. In order to manage the number of allergens, there are solutions ranging from using an air purifier to regular cleaning. To learn more tips on reducing allergens in your bedroom, click here.
Allergies are common and don’t have life-threatening consequences for most individuals. However, they encompass a wide range of symptoms and conditions that are often overlooked by people. There is no cure for allergies but they can be managed and reduced through avoidance, medications, and lifestyle changes. Working with your doctor or allergist can help reduce any major complications and make life more enjoyable.