Life is all about taking the good with the bad. Take spring, for instance. Sure, all that warm sunshine is great, but for millions of allergy sufferers, it also means weeks (sometimes even months) of dealing with drippy noses, sneezing spells, and itchy, watery eyes. So, what can you do about it? A lot, actually.
What Causes Allergic Reactions?
First off, it’s important to understand why allergy attacks happen in the first place. Call it a case of your immune system being a little overprotective against viruses or bacteria, defending itself against things it thinks are dangerous, but in reality are just typically harmless substances. Hundreds of everyday substances can trigger allergic reactions, including plant pollen, mold, household dust (dust mites), cockroaches, pet dander, industrial chemicals, foods, medicines, feathers, and insect stings. These triggers are called “allergens.”
Who Can Develop Allergies?
If you suffer from allergies, take at least a little comfort in knowing you’re not alone. Millions of people around the world (as many as 30 percent of adults and 40 percent of children) are suffering right along with you, regardless of age, race, gender, or socio-economic status. Although the exact genetic factors of allergies are not yet understood, they do appear to be hereditary. While it’s true that allergies are more common in children, they can occur for the first time at any age. Sometimes allergy symptoms start in childhood, disappear for many years, and then start up again during adult life.
Types of Allergies
Allergic reactions can occur anywhere in the body but usually occur in the nose, throat, eyes, lungs, sinuses, the lining of the stomach, and skin. These are all places where your immune system has stationed special cells to fight off viruses and bacteria that can come in to contact with your skin or be inhaled or swallowed. Here are a few of the most common:
- Allergic Rhinitis (Hay Fever)
Also known as hay fever, this pollen-and-mold-triggered allergy attacks the nose, eyes, and the roof of the mouth, causing sneezing, congestion, sneezing, and itching. It typically occurs seasonally, but can be a problem year-round for some, especially those exposed to household dust mites, pet dander, indoor molds, or other allergens
Asthma symptoms occur when airway muscle spasms block the flow of air to the lungs and/or the linings of the bronchial tubes become inflamed, and are characterized by labored or restricted breathing, tightness in the chest, coughing, and/or wheezing. While many cases cause only mild discomfort, it can be life-threatening, so it’s important to see your doctor if you think you are at risk.
- Contact Dermatitis/Skin Allergies
Contact dermatitis, eczema, and hives are skin conditions that can be caused by allergens and other irritants. Often, reactions may take hours or days to develop (as in the case of poison ivy), but some are more immediate, especially those stemming from allergies to medicines, insect stings, foods, or household chemicals. Stress can also trigger a reaction.
Anaphylaxisis a rapid-onset, potentially life-threatening systemic allergic reaction that affects many parts of the body at the same time. Triggers can include insect stings, foods (such as peanuts or shellfish), and medications. Symptoms may include vomiting or diarrhea, a decrease in blood pressure, redness of the skin and/or hives, difficulty breathing, swelling of the throat and/or tongue, and loss of consciousness. Frequently, these symptoms start without warning and quickly get worse. At the first sign of an anaphylactic reaction, the affected person must immediately seek medical attention.
What Can Be Done About Allergies?
People with allergies often just suffer through them with the aid of over-the-counter medicines, but seeing an allergist is your best bet when it comes to finding long-term relief. You should DEFINITELY see an allergist if you experience chronic sinus infections, nasal congestion, or difficulty breathing. Effectively controlling asthma and allergies requires planning, skill and patience. The allergist, with his or her specialized training, can develop a treatment plan for your individual condition. Here’s what to expect:
- Allergy testing
The allergist will usually perform comprehensive tests to determine what specific allergens are affecting you.
- Prescription remedies
A number of new and effective medications are available to treat both asthma and allergies.
- Immunotherapy (Allergy Shots)
In this treatment, patients are given injections (either weekly or bi-weekly) of some or all of the allergens they are allergic to. Gradually, the injection dosage is increased, as your body builds a natural immunity to it. In most cases, the patient’s symptoms decrease significantly over time.