By Elizabeth Simmons
I am that person who is allergic to the great outdoors. I’m also allergic to nearly all creatures hairy or fluffy. My system decided to throw in a medication allergy as well, just for good measure. That’s right; I’m the one in five Americans suffering from allergies. I’m a member of the 55 percent of Americans who tested positively for at least one allergen. Unfortunately, recent trends show that percentage is only increasing. Doctors and scientists have seen an increase in the number of people with the chronic disease in the last few decades, though no one is certain of why.
Allergens range from indoor to outdoor, from manmade to natural. The most common allergies include pollen, animal dander, dust mites, molds, latex, insect stings, fragrance and cockroaches. The two largest categories are food and medications. Penicillin is a well-known allergy, but individuals can also be allergic to medication like Benadryl and sleep aids. Food allergies have the “Big 8” list of foods, those most likely to cause an adverse reaction, which include eggs, fish, milk, tree nuts, peanuts (groundnuts), shellfish, soy and wheat.
Allergies to food, latex, insect stings and medications can cause severe reactions. The most dangerous of these is anaphylaxis; caused by large amounts of histamine being released in the body which can make the throat swell, cutting off the air supply. Though this potentially fatal condition is not the most common allergy reaction, it is not to be taken lightly. Anyone experiencing anaphylaxis requires immediate medical attention. Happily, not all allergic reactions are so dire and some are fairly mild.
Treatments for these symptoms are as diverse as the conditions themselves. For many people, over-the-counter medications, nasal sprays and itch relief ointments work well. Others prefer a stronger solution such as a daily prescription or allergy shots. Individuals wanting natural treatment use neti pots, saline spray and herbs for allergy relief. In more urgent cases, the EpiPen is a popular method of allergy treatment. The strong medication is carried by people who react strongly to insect stings or certain foods, and it can be administered quickly in case of emergency. The medicine in the EpiPen can slow severe reactions like anaphylaxis.
The number of people diagnosed with allergies and seeking treatment for allergies is increasing. Theories abound as to the reason for the increase in allergy prevalence, but no one cause has been found. Some blame the Western culture’s tendency toward cleanliness. They suggest frequently disinfecting everything and relying heavily on antibiotics prevents people from being exposed to certain germs and parasites. This lack of exposure, suggests some scientists, leads to the development of allergies.
Another theory suggests pesticides in tap water are causing more food allergies. Scientists published their research supporting that claim in a recent issue of Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Their research suggests that certain pesticides can reduce food tolerance, leading to allergies. Still others claim that global warming is to blame, and rising CO2 levels are causing more plants to grow. With more plants, more people develop pollen allergies. Whatever the cause, an increasing number of people are joining the ranks of allergy sufferers and need to be aware of their personal allergens and preferred treatments.