What is an allergy?
An allergy is an overreaction of the immune system to a foreign substance (allergen) that is inhaled, touched, eaten or injected into the body. In most people, the body's immune system recognizes allergens as harmless and deals with them without us even noticing. But in the allergic person, the immune system "overreacts" to the allergen as if it is dangerous to the body. That reaction results in the symptoms we associate with allergies, which often adversely affect our work, play, rest and overall quality of life.
What is an allergen?
An allergen is any substance that triggers an allergic reaction. Allergens "invade" the body by being inhaled, swallowed, injected or even absorbed by the skin.
Common allergens include pollen from trees, weeds and grasses, dust, mold, animal hair or dander, insect stings or bites, foods and chemicals.
- Avoidance - Try your best to avoid or minimize contact with your problematic allergens. Some simple ways include using a vacuum with a HEPA filter, using special pillow and mattress covers, keeping indoor humidity below 50%, avoid using fans, removing indoor plants if allergic to mold, and during peak pollen times, avoiding outdoor activities, keeping windows closed, and using an air conditioner.
- Pharmacotherapy- Medications can control allergy symptoms. Common products include antihistamines, decongestants and prescription nasal sprays.
- Immunotherapy- The only specific treatment for allergies, immunotherapy is a procedure where your doctor will give you a series of allergy shots, or sublingual drops. These are made from the allergens you're allergic to in various strengths and dilutions depending on your allergy test results. The goal is to "desensitize" your immune system so it will no longer look at the allergens as harmful. Immunotherapy is the only treatment approach that actually addresses the underlying cause of your allergies, rather than simply dealing with the symptoms.
Allergy Symptoms can take many different forms. Sneezing or stuffiness of the nose accompanied by redness or itching of the eyes are classic allergy symptoms, but are not always due to allergies; they can be caused by other conditions such as a constant low-grade sinus infection, temperature changes, or reaction to smoke or fumes. Listed below are common allergy symptoms and areas of your body affected:
- Nose/Sinus- sneezing, post-nasal drip, itching, congestion, and watery discharge
- Eyes- itching, redness, swelling and dark circles
- Ears- recurrent infections, fluid in the middle ear, itching in the ear canal, and hearing impairment
- Lungs- Shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing or tightness in the chest.
- Skin- itchy welts (hives), rash and intense itching
- Digestive system- stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea and other symptoms associated with food allergy.
- Other symptoms sometimes caused by allergy are fatigue, headache, hyperactivity and depression.