An allergy is an immune response to a foreign substance that is usually not harmful to people.
Results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in 2005 showed that more than half of all U.S. citizens (54.6 percent) test positive to one or more allergens. Allergies act up when the immune system reacts to a foreign substance entering the body. The immune system produces proteins called IgE (Immunoglobulin E) antibodies. When a person is allergic to the foreign substance, the immune system makes antibodies that identify the allergen as something harmful, even when it isn’t. This triggers histamines and other substances to be released, which cause allergy symptoms.
Common types of allergies include:
- Cigarette Smoke Allergy
- Dust Mite Allergy
- Food Allergy
- Grass Pollen Allergy
- Hay Fever
- House Dust Allergy
- Latex Allergy
- Mold Allergy
- Pet Allergy
- Pollen Allergy
- Ragweed Allergies
- Tree Pollen Allergy
Allergy symptoms can include itchy eyes, sneezing, rash, itchy skin, nasal congestion and wheezing. Some more severe symptoms of allergies include abdominal pain, cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, and swelling that can make breathing difficult.
Hives occur as a reaction to an allergen, most often a medication or food. There’s also allergic skin reactions (rashes) in the form of eczema. Allergic eczema is usually not caused by skin contact with an allergen. It’s mostly associated with allergic rhinitis (eyes and nasal contact) or asthma. Symptoms of allergic eczema include any of the following:* Itching, redness, or dry skin * Facial rash, especially with children * Rash around the eyes, elbows, and behind the knees, especially in older children and adults
Allergic shock, also referred to as anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock, is a potentially life-threatening reaction that can affect a number of organs simultaneously. Allergic shock usually happens when the allergen is eaten (foods) or injected (bee stings). Possible symptoms include:
- Hives or red skin discoloration
- Nasal congestion
- Throat swelling
- Stomach pain, nausea, vomiting
- Shortness of breath, wheezing
- Low blood pressure
Common causes of allergy symptoms include: * Food allergies * Seasonal allergies from grass * Pollen, molds, and animal dander * Medications * Insect stings and contact with substances such as latex.
The Food and Drug Administration requires that food manufacturers list common food allergens on labels. The top eight are: * Milk * Eggs * Peanuts * Tree nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts) * Fish (bass, cod, flounder) * Shellfish (crab, lobster, shrimp) * Soy * Wheat Family History – People don’t usually inherit allergies from their parents. However, there is a greater risk of developing certain allergies if the family has a history of allergies. Typical inherited allergy risks include hay fever, hives and eczema.
Asthma or an Allergic Condition – Asthma puts anyone at risk of developing an allergy. And unfortunately, having an existing allergy exposes them to a greater risk of developing more allergies.
Children – The young are more vulnerable to allergies. Experts aren’t certain as to why, but it may be because children’s immune systems are not completely developed. The same goes with food allergies a child’s immature digestive system.
Allergy Treatment Options
Medications – Allergy medications can ease symptoms by reducing the immune system’s reaction to the allergen. Depending on the allergy, patients may use an over-the-counter or prescription medication, nasal sprays or eye drops. Popular types of medications include:Corticosteroids:
- Vicks Sinex
Leukotriene modifiers: * Singulair * Accolate * Zyflo Immunotherapy – This is reserved for severe allergies or for those people who are not relieved by other treatments. If a doctor recommends immunotherapy (allergy shots), it involves a series of injections of purified allergen extracts, usually given over a period of a few years.
Allergy shots are given on a schedule that involves two phases:
The buildup phase lasts about three to seven months. During this phase, the allergen dose is gradually increased with each shot. Shots are usually given one to three times a week.
After the dosage has been increased to an effective level, there will be a maintenance phase where the dose contains a consistent amount of allergens. The injections are about once a month for three to five years.
Sublingual immunotherapy is a newer treatment. It’s a method of allergy treatment that, instead of shots, uses an allergen solution given under the tongue. Over the course of treatment, it reduces sensitivity to allergens.
Companies that manufacture immunotherapy products include, Immuno Laboratories, Allermed, Antigen Laboratories, Crystal Laboratory and HollisterStier.
Emergency Epinephrine – This is reserved for severe allergies, but a doctor may give the patient an emergency epinephrine shot to carry at all times. An epinephrine shot can reduce symptoms until the person gets emergency treatment. Epinephrine shots are available as a prescription under the brand names such as Twinject, Primatene Mist, Adrenalin and EpiPen.
Alternative Treatment Options
Some people claim that herbal remedies help alleviate allergy symptoms. But there are some questions from the mainstream medical community regarding their efficacy.
Herbal remedies include:
- Butterbur is native to Europe, northern Africa and southwestern Asia, butterbur has been used for centuries as an herbal treatment for headaches, back pain, asthma and urinary spasms.
- Cat’s Claw is used for centuries in South America, cat’s claw has been used for a variety of health conditions, including allergies. Cat’s claw contains alkaloids, which are said to be antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and immunostimulating.
- Choline is an organic compound that is said to fight chronic inflammation.
- Goldenseal is a perennial herb that is native to southeastern Canada and the northeastern United States. Its purported allergy benefits include the treatment of skin disorders and eye irritations.
- Stinging nettle is a perennial flowering plant that is native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa and North America. It has been used for hundreds of years to treat hay fever and insect bites, and many other ailments unrelated to allergies.
- Bromelain is a mixture of protein-digesting enzymes found in pineapples. It’s been used for centuries in Central and South America to treat indigestion and reduce inflammation. There are also proponents of alternative therapies, which include probiotics, acupuncture and even hypnosis.Probiotics are dietary supplements of live microorganisms thought to have many health benefits, including inflammation reduction. And with acupuncture, allergy sufferers can avoid the side-effects often associated with medications.
Proponents of hypnosis claim that some allergies come from our subconscious, and are not medical in nature. By convincing altering one’s perception through the power of hypnosis, the psychosis of a non-existent allergy is removed.
Avoid Allergens – The most important treatment for allergies is to identify the allergens and then avoid them.
Keep a Diary – Documenting when symptoms of allergies occur will help pinpoint the allergens, and avoid them.
Keep a Clean House – If anyone has issues with animal dander and dust, this is especially important.
For more information about allergies, view the resources below.
- American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology http://www.aaaai.org/
- U.S. National Library of Medicine http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/allergy.html