Allergies Can be Minimized



Allergies are abnormal immune system reactions in response to bodily contact with foreign substances to things that are typically harmless to most people.

It is estimated that 50 million North Americans alone are affected by allergic conditions at a cost of more than $10 billion dollars yearly.

When you are allergic to something (or atopic), your immune system mistakenly believes that this substance is harmful to your body.

Your body in turn produces IgE antibodies to protect itself and fight the allergens causing certain cells in your body to release chemicals (one of which is histamine) into the blood stream which in turn causes the allergic reaction.

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Allergic reactions can be mild, like a runny nose, or they can be severe, like difficulty breathing. An asthma attack, for example, is often an allergic reaction to an allergen that is breathed into the lungs in a person who is susceptible.

Some types of allergies produce multiple symptoms, and in rare cases, an allergic reaction can become very severe.

Some of the more common allergens are:

  • Foods: Allergic reactions to foods are often common in infants and can go away as the child gets older. Although some reactions can be serious, many simply cause annoying symptoms like an itchy rash, a stuffy nose, and diarrhea. The most common foods that people are allergic to are milk and other dairy products, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts and tree nuts, and seafood.
  • Insect bites and stings: The venom (poison) in insect bites and stings can cause allergic reactions in many people. These reactions can be severe and may cause an anaphylactic reaction in some people.
  • Airborne particles: These are often called environmental allergens, and they're the most common allergens. Some examples are dust mites, mold spores, animal dander, and pollen from grass, ragweed, and trees.
  • Medicines: Antibiotics (medications used to treat infections) are the most common types of medicines that cause allergic reactions while many others, including over-the-counter medications can also cause reactions.
  • Chemicals: Some cosmetics or laundry detergents can cause people to break out in an itchy rash (hives) because the person has a reaction to the chemicals in these products. Dyes, household cleaners, and pesticides used on lawns or plants can also cause allergic reactions.

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The tendency to develop allergies is often hereditary, which means it can be passed down through your genes. However, just because a parent or sibling might have allergic reactions doesn't mean you definitely will get them too or be sensitive to the same allergen.

Some immune system responses to allergens are:

  • allergic rhinitis: ("Hay fever") is the most common of the allergic diseases and refers to seasonal nasal symptoms that are due to pollens. Year round or perennial allergic rhinitis is usually due to indoor allergens, such as dust mites, animal dander, or molds. Common symptoms include; runny nose, stuffy nose, sneezing, nasal itching, itchy ears and throat, and post nasal drip.
  • Asthma: This is a breathing problem that results from the inflammation and spasm of the lung's air passages (bronchial tubes). The inflammation causes a narrowing of the air passages, which limits the flow of air into and out of the lungs. Asthma is most often, but not always, related to allergies with common symptoms of; shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and chest tightness.
  • Allergic eyes: (Allergic conjunctivitis) is the inflammation of the tissue layers (membranes) that cover the surface of the eyeball and the under surface of the eyelid. The inflammation occurs as a result of an allergic reaction and may produce the following symptoms; redness under the lids and of the eye overall, watery and itchy eyes, and swelling of the membranes.
  • Allergic Eczema: An allergic rash that is usually not caused by skin contact with an allergen also known as allergic dermatitis or atopic dermatitis caused by foods or other allergens. This condition is commonly associated with allergic rhinitis or asthma with the following symptoms; itching, redness, and dryness of the skin, rash on the face (especially children), rash around the eyes, elbow creases, and behind the knees.
  • Contact dermatitis: Caused by exposure to certain plants (such as poison ivy or poison oak), cosmetics, medications, metals and chemicals with symptoms red, itchy skin, inflamed skin, and welts.
  • Hives: Skin reactions that appear as itchy swellings and can occur on any part of the body. Caused by an allergic reaction to food or medicine, even occurring in non-allergic people. Typical symptoms are; raised red welts and intense itching.
  • Allergic Shock: (Anaphylactic shock) is a life-threatening allergic reaction that can affect a number of organs at the same time. Typically occurring when the allergen is eaten (e.g. foods) or injected (e.g. bee stings). Some symptoms include; hives or reddish discoloration of the skin, nasal congestion, swelling of the throat, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, wheezing, and low blood pressure or shock.

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Three ways to avoid allergic reactions is to stay away from the substances that cause the reactions (called avoidance), treat the reactions with medicine or treat with shots.

Avoidance
In some cases, like with food, avoiding the allergen is a life-saving necessity and is really the only way to treat food allergens. But there are also other allergens which if avoided can make your life easier.

  • Keep family pets out of certain rooms, like your bedroom and bathe them regularly.
  • Remove carpets or rugs from your room (hard floor surfaces don't collect dust as carpets do).
  • Don't hang heavy drapes, and get rid of other items that allow dust to accumulate.
  • Use special covers to seal pillows and mattresses if allergic to dust mites.
  • If allergic to pollen, keep windows and doors closed during high pollen times, change your clothes after being outdoors, and hire someone to mow the lawn.
  • If allergic to mold, avoid damp areas, such as basements and keep bathrooms and other mold-prone areas clean and dry.

Medications
Medications such as pills or nasal sprays are often used to treat allergic reactions in some people. Medications can control allergy symptoms (such as sneezing, headaches, or a stuffy nose), but they are not a cure and can't make the reactions go away.

Shots
Allergy shots are referred to as allergen immunotherapy. By receiving injections of small amounts of an allergen, your body can gradually develop antibodies and undergo other immune system changes. These changes help block the reaction caused by the substance to which you're allergic.

Allergens are found all around us and just about everywhere. Depending largely on the route of entry and level of exposure, allergens are the cause of our allergies and allergic reactions. If you suspect or exhibit any allergy symptoms, talk with your family doctor and seek profession medical advice.

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