An allergy is an immune system response to a foreign substance that’s not typically harmful to your body. These foreign substances are called allergens. They can include certain foods, pollen, or pet dander. Your immune system’s job is to keep you healthy by fighting harmful pathogens. It does this by attacking anything it thinks could put your body in danger. Depending on the allergen, this response may involve inflammation, sneezing, or a host of other symptoms. Your immune system normally adjusts to your environment. For example, when your body encounters something like pet dander, it should realize it’s harmless. In people with dander allergies, the immune system perceives it as an outside invader threatening the body and attacks it. Allergies are common. Several treatments can help you avoid your symptoms.
Symptoms of allergiesThe symptoms you experience because of allergies are the result of several factors. These include the type of allergy you have and how severe the allergy is. If you take any medication before an anticipated allergic response, you may still experience some of these symptoms, but they may be reduced.
For food allergiesFood allergies can trigger swelling, hives, nausea, fatigue, and more. It may take a while for a person to realize that they have a food allergy. If you have a serious reaction after a meal and you’re not sure why, see a medical professional immediately. They can find the exact cause of your reaction or refer you to a specialist.
For seasonal allergiesHay fever symptoms can mimic those of a cold. They include congestion, runny nose, and swollen eyes. Most of the time, you can manage these symptoms at home using over-the-counter treatments. See your doctor if your symptoms become unmanageable.
For severe allergiesSevere allergies can cause anaphylaxis. This is a life-threatening emergency that can lead to breathing difficulties, lightheadedness, and loss of consciousness. If you’re experiencing these symptoms after coming in contact with a possible allergen, seek medical help immediately. Everyone’s signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction are different.
Allergies on skinSkin allergies may be a sign or symptom of an allergy. They may also be the direct result of exposure to an allergen. For example, eating a food you’re allergic to can cause several symptoms. You may experience tingling in your mouth and throat. You may also develop a rash. Contact dermatitis, however, is the result of your skin coming into direct contact with an allergen. This could happen if you touch something you’re allergic to, such as a cleaning product or plant. Types of skin allergies include:
- Rashes. Areas of skin are irritated, red, or swollen, and can be painful or itchy.
- Eczema. Patches of skin become inflamed and can itch and bleed.
- Contact dermatitis. Red, itchy patches of skin develop almost immediately after contact with an allergen.
- Sore throat. Pharynx or throat is irritated or inflamed.
- Hives. Red, itchy, and raised welts of various sizes and shapes develop on the surface of the skin.
- Swollen eyes. Eyes may be watery or itchy and look “puffy.”
- Itching. There’s irritation or inflammation in the skin.
- Burning. Skin inflammation leads to discomfort and stinging sensations on the skin.
Causes of allergiesResearchers aren’t exactly sure why the immune system causes an allergic reaction when a normally harmless foreign substance enters the body. Allergies have a genetic component. This means parents can pass them down to their children. However, only a general susceptibility to allergic reaction is genetic. Specific allergies aren’t passed down. For instance, if your mother is allergic to shellfish, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be, too. Common types of allergens include:
- Animal products. These include pet dander, dust mite waste, and cockroaches.
- Drugs. Penicillin and sulfa drugs are common triggers.
- Foods. Wheat, nuts, milk, shellfish, and egg allergies are common.
- Insect stings. These include bees, wasps, and mosquitoes.
- Mold. Airborne spores from mold can trigger a reaction.
- Plants. Pollens from grass, weeds, and trees, as well as resin from plants such as poison ivy and poison oak, are very common plant allergens.
- Other allergens. Latex, often found in latex gloves and condoms, and metals like nickel are also common allergens.
- itchy eyes
- watery eyes
- runny nose
Allergy treatmentsThe best way to avoid allergies is to stay away from whatever triggers the reaction. If that’s not possible, there are treatment options available.
MedicationAllergy treatment often includes medications like antihistamines to control symptoms. The medication can be over the counter or prescription. What your doctor recommends depends on the severity of your allergies. Allergy medications include:
- antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- cetirizine (Zyrtec)
- loratadine (Claritin)
- cromolyn sodium (Gastrocrom)
- decongestants (Afrin, Suphedrine PE, Sudafed)
- leukotriene modifiers (Singulair, Zyflo)
ImmunotherapyMany people opt for immunotherapy. This involves several injections over the course of a few years to help the body get used to your allergy. Successful immunotherapy can prevent allergy symptoms from returning.
Emergency epinephrineIf you have a severe, life-threatening allergy, carry an emergency epinephrine shot. The shot counters allergic reactions until medical help arrives. Common brands of this treatment include EpiPen and Twinject. Some allergic responses are a medical emergency. Prepare for these emergency situations by knowing allergic reaction first aid.
Natural remedies for allergiesMany natural remedies and supplements are marketed as a treatment and even a way to prevent allergies. Discuss these with your doctor before trying them. Some natural treatments may actually contain other allergens and make your symptoms worse. For example, some dried teas use flowers and plants that are closely related to plants that might be causing you serious sneezing. The same is true for essential oils. Some people use these oils to relieve common symptoms of allergies, but essential oils still contain ingredients that can cause allergies. Each type of allergy has a host of natural remedies that may help speed up recovery.
How allergies are diagnosedYour doctor can diagnose allergies in several ways. First, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and perform a physical exam. They’ll ask about anything unusual you may have eaten recently and any substances you may have come in contact with. For example, if you have a rash on your hands, your doctor may ask if you put on latex gloves recently. Lastly, a blood test and skin test can confirm or diagnose allergens your doctor suspects you have.
Allergy blood testYour doctor may order a blood test. Your blood will be tested for the presence of allergy-causing antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE). These are cells that react to allergens. Your doctor will use a blood test to confirm a diagnosis if they’re worried about the potential for a severe allergic reaction.
Skin testYour doctor may also refer you to an allergist for testing and treatment. A skin test is a common type of allergy test carried out by an allergist. During this test, your skin is pricked or scratched with small needles containing potential allergens. Your skin’s reaction is documented. If you’re allergic to a particular substance, your skin will become red and inflamed. Different tests may be needed to diagnose all your potential allergies.
Preventing symptomsThere’s no way to prevent allergies. But there are ways to prevent the symptoms from occurring. The best way to prevent allergy symptoms is to avoid the allergens that trigger them. Avoidance is the most effective way to prevent food allergy symptoms. An elimination diet can help you determine the cause of your allergies so you know how to avoid them. To help you avoid food allergens, thoroughly read food labels and ask questions while dining out. Preventing seasonal, contact, and other allergies comes down to knowing where the allergens are located and how to avoid them. If you’re allergic to dust, for example, you can help reduce symptoms by installing proper air filters in your home, getting your air ducts professionally cleaned, and dusting your home regularly. Proper allergy testing can help you pinpoint your exact triggers, which makes them easier to avoid.
- suddenly narrowed airways
- increased heart rate
- possible swelling of the tongue and mouth
Asthma is a common respiratory condition. It makes breathing more difficult and can narrow the air passageways in your lungs. Asthma is closely related to allergies. Indeed, allergies can make existing asthma worse. It can also trigger asthma in a person who’s never had the condition. When these conditions occur together, it’s a condition called allergy-induced asthma, or allergic asthma. Allergic asthma affects about 60 percent of people who have asthma in the United States, estimates the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America. Many people with allergies may develop asthma.