An allergy is the immune system’s abnormal reaction to an allergen that’s otherwise harmless to most people. When your body overreacts to an allergen, your immune system will produce antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE).
This IgE response will identify the allergen as harmful and will release chemicals that’ll trigger an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions can be as mild and non-fatal as a skin rash. On the other hand, it can be extremely severe and potentially life-threatening like having an anaphylactic shock.
Types of allergies
Perennial allergies may occur year-round, regardless of the season. It can be triggered by mold, dust mites, pet dander, or any airborne substances that are present in your surroundings.
Seasonal allergies occur during certain seasons of the year. This is usually due to exposure to pollen, grasses, and trees. It’s a good idea to stay indoors. If you have to go out, watch out for high pollen counts during spring, summer, or fall. However, it’s also true that allergic reactions can still happen even if the pollen count is low.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, allergies can be classified as:
- Food Allergy: abnormal immune response to a particular protein found in that food. The top eight food allergens are cow’s milk, eggs, fish, peanuts, shellfish, soy, tree nuts, and wheat.
- Pet Allergy: abnormal immune response to allergens produced by pets. It can be a pet dander from animals with fur or feathers. It can also be pet allergens from hair, skin, saliva, and urine.
- Insect Allergy: abnormal immune response to insect stings and bug bites. The most common insects that can cause allergic reactions are bees, fire ants, hornets, yellow jackets, and wasps.
- Drug Allergy: abnormal immune response to the medication itself or the properties of the drugs. Common drug allergens include antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, chemotherapy drugs, and anticonvulsants.
- Latex Allergy: abnormal immune response to natural rubber derived from the milky latex of the Brazilian rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis. Balloons, bandages, condoms, diaphragms, gloves, and rubber bands contain latex.
- Mold Allergy: abnormal immune response to mold spores or other fungi. Molds can be found everywhere. It can be present in stuffed animals or damp carpets, even inside air conditioners and refrigerators. They can be visible to the naked eye or only visible under a microscope.
Symptoms of allergies
Allergies and asthma exhibit the same symptoms. Mild allergic symptoms include:
- itchy or watery eyes
- stuffed, itchy, or runny nose
- wheezing or coughs
- vomiting and nausea
- dry or irritated skin
- stomach pains
- swollen facial features
However, there are people with severe allergic manifestations such as:
- difficulty breathing
- abnormal face swelling
- blue lips or skin
It’s important to head straight to the nearest hospital when these allergy symptoms occur.
Severe allergic reactions
The most serious allergic response is anaphylaxis. Common culprits of anaphylaxis are certain medications and food items as well as hypersensitivity to latex and insect stings. There are serious side effects to exposure to certain allergens. These include hives, breathing difficulty, swelling, low blood pressure, erratic heart rate, and/or loss of consciousness.
Anaphylaxis can be an acute, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that requires a trip to a hospital emergency room right away. If a person is experiencing an anaphylactic reaction, a prompt injection of epinephrine must be administered immediately. Left untreated, it can lead to long-term health complications or even death.
Epinephrine allergy shots can reverse the symptoms, at least temporarily, within minutes. Don’t delay seeking emergency medical help, though. Even if you have already administered epinephrine, it’s crucial to call 911 and take the patient to the nearest emergency facility at the first sign of anaphylaxis.
Allergies: Inherited or acquired?
Inherited allergies are genetically intrinsic to the body regardless of exposure to various environmental risk factors. Acquired allergies develop no matter how old a person is. It can be triggered by an allergic episode when you were younger. It can also result from a weakened immune system as you get older.
There are individuals whose families are more vulnerable to developing allergies. It means that based on their genetic makeup, they may be at higher risk of having frequent allergic reactions.
On the other hand, it’s also possible to suddenly develop adult-onset allergies. These can be caused by new allergens in the environment or changes in your immune system. It’s also possible that you may be allergic to a particular substance all along, but you’ve simply never been around it until now.
Types of tests to diagnose allergies
Skin prick test or scratch test is done by pricking the outermost layer of the skin and then putting a tiny amount of allergen on top of it. If the skin turns red and swells up, you’re allergic to that substance.
Allergen skin testing can identify many common allergic reactions. It’s also the fastest way to diagnose an allergy. Results can turn up in as early as fifteen minutes.
Allergy blood tests, on the other hand, are the process of adding allergens to your blood sample. It’ll detect and measure the number of antibodies that’ll be produced after coming in contact with an allergy trigger.
Allergy blood tests are an alternative way to diagnose an allergy. These are ideal for:
- individuals with more serious skin conditions
- those who are currently under medication that may interfere with the results of a normal skin test
- children who might not be able to tolerate an allergy skin test
Allergies are common health conditions that can be managed with proper diagnosis and treatment. By identifying the allergens that trigger your symptoms and taking steps to avoid them, you can reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life.