The Inside Scoop on Allergies
Allergies are on the rise. Approximately one in three people now have at least one allergy. It may bring on a runny nose, itching eyes and sore throat, or it may show up as a rash or eczema. The medical profession hasn’t yet found a cure for allergies, but there are some successful allergy treatments that alleviate, and sometimes prevent, allergic reactions. In addition, an allergy sufferer has many options available to help improve the quality of life.
An allergic reaction is nothing more than your immune system’s overly enthusiastic response to an outside particle entering the body. The immune system is designed to attack viruses and bacteria that threaten your health and life. Usually this system works just fine, but in some people it has trouble distinguishing between a real threat and a normally harmless bit of pollen, or dust, or a protein found in milk, to name just a few.
These substances are called allergens when they trigger an allergic reaction. Whenever your immune system detects an allergen it rushes to expel it from your body, and in the process it makes you miserable as your eyes water or your stomach aches. In addition, while antibodies remain behind after a viral infection to prevent a reoccurrence, your immune system will attack an allergen each and every time you come in contact with it.
The Usual Symptoms
Allergy sufferers can rattle off a list of their symptoms in no time. Hay fever is the name given to the collection of symptoms that occur when your respiratory system reacts to an allergen. If you have hay fever you’re familiar with the itchy, watery eyes, sore throat, sneezing, and runny nose; ironically, there’s no actual fever. People with food allergies often suffer intestinal discomfort and/or a rash or hives (small, itchy bumps).
The most serious set of allergy symptoms occur in anaphylaxis. A person in this condition will experience difficulty in breathing, a sudden drop of blood pressure, dizziness, swelling of the mouth and throat, and possibly loss of consciousness. Emergency medical treatment is needed immediately to keep this patient alive. Many people who have experienced such an extreme reaction carry a medication called epinephrine to be injected at the first sign of trouble. Common triggers of anaphylaxis, also called anaphylactic shock, are bee stings and peanuts.
Who’s At Risk
Scientific research has revealed much about allergies, but no one yet knows why some people have them and others don’t. We do know that parents can pass allergies along to their children, but this doesn’t always happen. However, children of allergic parents do have an increased risk of allergies themselves.
Allergies don’t always crop up in childhood, as many people believe. While young children certainly carry a greater risk for allergies, hay fever may not appear until adolescence or even later in life. On the other hand, older people who suffered from hay fever as children may find they don’t have those reactions anymore.
Gender may also play a role in allergies. As children, girls tend to have fewer allergies than boys; conversely, young adult men are less likely to suffer from asthma.
Researchers have found evidence that children from small families seem to have a higher incidence of hay fever and eczema. One theory states that members of large families are exposed to more viral and bacterial infections, thus giving their immune systems the chance to develop optimally. In small families, exposure to infections may be lessened causing the immune system to become too sensitive to other irritants.
Where you live also appears to influence your likelihood of having allergy problems. Studies have shown that there is a greater incidence of allergies in industrialized urban centers than in rural communities.
The Usual Suspects
Allergens come in many forms, each with its characteristic reaction. And not all allergy sufferers are affected by the same allergens. While you get a runny nose and itchy eyes when the wind blows grass pollen your way, your neighbor might get a sore throat every time she dusts, or your co-worker may get a rash from her wedding ring when wearing an alternative such as a titanium ring would remedy her particular allergy.
Food allergies are very common. Most people who are troubled by them learn to cope by avoiding those foods that trigger a reaction. Symptoms are often violent and may include vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Rashes and hives are also common reactions to food allergens. Common foods that cause allergies include peanuts, soy products, seafood and shellfish, wheat, dairy products, and eggs.
Pollens from various trees, grasses, and flowers are a frequent cause of hay fever, that allergic reaction that mimics a cold. They are also extremely difficult to avoid unless you can stay indoors with the windows closed. Fortunately, plants usually bloom for only a few weeks in season and there are medications that alleviate the symptoms of these seasonal allergies.
Hay fever can also be caused by dust mites, the microscopic animals that live in household dust. The best way to combat them is to clean frequently and thoroughly. Leave your floors bare if possible since rugs and carpets collect lots of dust. Invest in a high quality vacuum with an allergen filter and clean the filter frequently. Unfortunately, dust mites are a year-round nuisance so you need to keep up this regimen all the time.
Dogs can not only be man’s best friend, they can also make him sneeze. Animal dander is the cause of allergies to your pets. These flakes of skin that animals shed all over can be controlled to some extent in dogs by frequent bathing. You can also keep the animals outside, at least most of the time, and never let them in the bedrooms.
Allergy sufferers with sensitive skin may find that cosmetics, detergents, perfumes and even latex cause a rash, eczema, or dermatitis. Certain chemicals in these products act as allergens for some people, making them miserable with itchy hives and rashes. Fortunately, many of these types of products are now available without dyes and perfumes; just look for labels that say hypoallergenic.
Certain metals used in jewelry are known to give the wearer an allergic reaction. The most common of these is nickel. For someone with this allergy, letting nickel come in contact with the skin will cause redness, swelling, or a rash. Titanium jewelry is an excellent choice for a substitute metal because it is the most hypoallergenic metal, plus it is lightweight and strong.
Unfortunately, some medications may cause the patient to suffer an allergy attack. In some cases the reaction may develop slowly over a few days, while in others it is an immediate response. If you are allergic to any medication, such as penicillin or aspirin, be sure to let any medical practitioner know.
The Doctor’s Involved
Trying to work out just what causes your allergic reactions may take some time and effort but it’s worth it if you get relief from your symptoms. After you know what substances will trigger an attack it’s a simple matter of avoiding them. Well, that works for foods and cosmetics, but what about airborne allergens. You can’t stop breathing!
Luckily scientists and doctors have developed some medical strategies to help you cope. There are many non-prescription allergy medicines on the market today and prescription-only ones, too, if you need something stronger. In some cases, steroids may be prescribed to help reduce swelling.
If you can’t pinpoint the source of your allergies, a specialist can use a series of blood and skin tests to determine the causes. This is particularly useful for pollen allergies because you can’t eliminate them one at a time to see whether you feel better or not.
Once the precise source of your hay fever has been discovered, your doctor may recommend a series of allergy treatments (shots). Similar to a vaccination for measles or influenza, these shots inject a small amount of the allergen to help you develop immunity to it. Over time as your tolerance builds you will find your symptoms have diminished in severity or possibly disappeared altogether.