Allergies are a widespread, chronic condition that affects millions of Americans. The symptoms from allergies can range widely, from annoying sneezes and sniffles to potentially life-threatening asthma and anaphylactic shock.
Allergies differ from many other diseases in that symptoms are caused not by an outside intruder but rather your own body’s immune response to an outside presence. In the case of allergies, an offending substance called an allergen, which could be anything from tree pollen to mold to a food, causes your immune system to overreact. Your body produces a glut of antibodies in response to the perceived threat, and these antibodies release histamine and other chemicals that cause the allergic response.
Causes and Types of Allergies
Genetics play a role in whether you will develop allergies. If one of your parents has allergies, then you have a 1 in 3 chance of getting them. If both parents have allergies, your odds increase to 7 in 10.
There are a number of different types of allergies, the most common being seasonal allergies, sometimes called hay fever. This is the telltale sneezing, itching, runny nose and red eyes that come with the pollen in the air during spring and fall. Many people have skin allergies, which are characterized by itching and bumps and spots on the skin caused by an allergen.
Food allergies affect about 6 percent of all allergy sufferers, and some people with food allergies can develop severe, life-threatening symptoms like anaphylactic shock. Latex allergies, insect allergies and eye allergies are other types.
Treatment of Allergies
Treatments for allergies can range from simple do-it-yourself measures to detailed action plans formulated with a doctor. What's best for you will depend on the type and severity of your allergy. For example, if you have a mild case of allergic rhinitis, your best bet may be to avoid the allergen by staying indoors more frequently during the spring. Over-the-counter medications are also helpful for many with seasonal allergies.
If you have asthma or a severe food allergy, however, you need to work with your doctor to formulate a plan. Avoidance of potential allergens is very important. And people with either asthma or food allergies often need to keep rescue medications on hand at all times. These medications can put a stop to potentially life-threatening symptoms as they are happening.
SOURCES: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America; American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Choosing the best OTC medication to treat hay fever symptoms
Having a dog may protect your child against two common conditions, new study finds
Smart steps to stay safe
What to look for
Common-sense rules will make Fright Night less scary
Strategies to stifle sniffles
Inner-city study found early exposure to cockroaches and mice droppings seemed protective
Oral food challenges are safe and rarely result in a serious reaction, researchers say
Electrocution and carbon monoxide poisoning are risks in flooded homes, American Thoracic Society says
Take medication before symptoms flare, reduce mold exposure and avoid pollen, allergy expert says
Do you have these symptoms?
Screening for certain immune cells might help doctors assess reactions to treatment, researchers say