is the immune system’s 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. They elicit a response from your
system’s job is to keep you healthy by fighting infection and other harmful
pathogens. It does this by attacking anything it fears could put your body in
danger. Depending on the allergen, this attack response may involve
inflammation, sneezing, and a host of other symptoms.
system normally becomes acclimated to your environment. When your body
encounters something like pet dander, it realizes it’s harmless, and doesn’t
attack. In people with allergies, the immune system confuses those harmless
substances with outside invaders threatening the body.
are common, and there are several ways to treat them in order to avoid annoying
and troublesome symptoms.
Causes and Types of Allergies
occur when a normally harmless foreign substance enters the body and your
immune system has a response to the invader. Researchers aren’t exactly sure
why the immune system reacts this way.
have a genetic component, meaning that they can be passed down from parent to
child. However, only a general susceptibility to allergic reaction is genetic.
Specific allergies are not passed down. If your mother is allergic to
shellfish, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be too.
to the American College of Allergy, Asthma
& Immunology, there are several common types of allergens, including:
- animal products: pet dander, dust mite waste, cockroaches
- drugs: penicillin, “sulfa” drugs
- foods: most commonly wheat, nuts, milk, shellfish, and eggs
- insect stings: bees, wasps, mosquitoes
- mold: airborne spores from mold
- plants: pollens from grass, weeds, and trees, as well as resin from plants
such as poison ivy and poison oak
- other: metals, such as copper and latex
allergies, also known as hay fever, are some of the most common allergies.
These are caused by pollen released by plants. They cause:
- itchy eyes
- watery eyes
- a runny nose
- a cough
When to See a Doctor About Allergies
symptoms can create numerous complications.
allergies can trigger swelling, hives, nausea, fatigue, and more. It may take awhile
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 your doctor. They will be
able to find the exact cause of your reaction or refer you to a specialist.
symptoms can mimic those of a cold. They include congestion, a runny nose, and
swollen eyes. Most of the time you’ll be able to manage these symptoms at home
using over-the-counter treatments. See your doctor if your symptoms become
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.
can help determine the cause of your symptoms, as well as the difference
between a sensitivity and a full-blown allergy. Your doctor can also teach you
how to manage your allergy symptoms.
How Are Allergies Diagnosed?
several ways allergies can be diagnosed.
doctor will ask about your symptoms and perform a physical exam. They will 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’ve put on latex gloves recently.
Food allergies are
typically diagnosed through a process of elimination. Your doctor may have you
take part in an elimination diet.
This means you will remove certain foods from your diet and then rate your
symptoms. Foods are slowly added back into the diet and symptoms are recorded
in a food diary.
Your doctor may also refer
you to an allergist for testing and treatment. A common type of allergy test
carried out by an allergist is called a skin
test. 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
According to the Mayo Clinic, your doctor or allergist
may also order a blood test known as a radioallergosorbent test
(RAST). Your blood will be tested for the presence of allergy-causing
antibodies, or cells that react to allergens.
How Are Allergies Treated?
treatment for allergies is avoiding whatever triggers the reaction. If that’s
not possible, there are treatment options available.
people with hay fever and seasonal allergies cannot avoid the outdoor
environment forever, treatment involves medications like antihistamines to
control the symptoms. The medication can be over-the-counter or prescription,
depending on the severity of your allergies.
- cromolyn sodium
- leukotriene modifiers
opt for immunotherapy. This involves several injections of purified extracts
from the allergens given over a few years. This helps the body become
accustomed to the substance that produces the allergic reaction. Successful
immunotherapy can prevent allergy symptoms from returning.
have severe, life-threatening allergic reactions typically carry an emergency
epinephrine shot, commonly called an EpiPen. EpiPen is one brand name and
another commonly used brand is Tinject. This shot is given to counter the
allergic reaction until medical help arrives.
many natural treatments and supplements marketed to treat allergies, but you
should discuss these with your doctor before trying them. Some natural
treatments may contain other allergens.
How to Prevent Allergies
There is 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.
is the most effective way to treat food allergens. Trying an elimination diet
can help you determine the cause of your allergens so you know how to avoid
them. Thoroughly reading food labels and asking questions while dining out are
basic steps to help avoid food allergens.
seasonal allergies, contact allergies, and other allergies comes down to knowing
where the allergens are located and how to avoid them. If you’re allergic to
dust, installing proper air filters in your home, getting your air ducts
professionally cleaned, and regularly dusting your home can help reduce
allergy testing can help you pinpoint your exact triggers, which makes them
easier to avoid.
Outlook: Living With Allergies
are common and don’t have life-threatening consequences for most people. Those at
risk of anaphylaxis can learn how to manage their allergies and what to do in
an emergency situation.
allergies are manageable with avoidance, medications, and lifestyle changes.
Working with your doctor or allergist can help reduce any major complications
and make life more enjoyable.