Understanding Allergies

When most people think of Spring they think of flowers blooming, birds chirping and sunny day ahead, but for millions… their thoughts turn to congestion, runny noses, itchy eyes or endless sneezes. They have what are known as seasonal allergies.

Allergy symptoms are caused by a hypersensitive response to an otherwise harmless substance and not all allergies are the same.

Allergies, also known as allergic diseases, are a number of conditions caused by hypersensitivity of the immune system to something in the environment that usually causes little or no problem in most people. These diseases include hay fever, food allergies, atopic dermatitis, allergic asthma, and anaphylaxis. Symptoms may include red eyes, an itchy rash, sneezing, a runny nose, shortness of breath, or swelling. Food intolerances and food poisoning are separate conditions.

Allergies, including allergic rhinitis, affect an estimated 40 million to 50 million people in the United States. Some allergies may interfere with day-to-day activities or lessen the quality of life.

Although there are many types of allergies such as foods, chemicals, metals, medications and insect stings, seasonal allergies by far affect people the most.

Seasonal allergies — also known as hay fever and allergic rhinitis — can make you miserable. But before you decide to stay indoors all spring long, there are solutions and treatments to make your life more tolerable.

Finding out exactly what causes your allergic reactions is half the battle. The other half is knowing how to treat them properly. An ENT visit can be the beginning of a successful resolution.

Many allergens such as dust or pollen are airborne particles. In these cases, symptoms arise in areas in contact with air, such as eyes, nose, and lungs. For instance, allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, causes irritation of the nose, sneezing, itching, and redness of the eyes. Inhaled allergens can also lead to increased production of mucus in the lungs, shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing.

Their development is due to both genetic and environmental factors. The underlying mechanism involves immunoglobulin E antibodies(IgE), part of the body’s immune system, binding to an allergen and then to a receptor on mast cells or basophils where it triggers the release of inflammatory chemicals such as histamine. Diagnosis is typically based on a person’s medical history. Further testing of the skin or blood may be useful in certain cases. Positive tests, however, may not mean there is a significant allergy to the substance in question.

Allergy treatment is based on avoidance of offending allergens through environmental control, medications to control symptoms, and immunotherapy (allergy shots). Treatment is generally begun with avoidance and medications. Dramatic symptomatic improvement may occur by environmental control, such as removing a pet from the household. Should avoidance therapy and medications fail to gain adequate control, immunotherapy is begun. If immunotherapy is recommended, a solution is mixed specifically based on allergy testing results and will be administered in the arm. The need for allergy medication may decrease or disappear as immunotherapy is advanced. Overwhelming antigen exposure may provoke symptoms even after symptom control with immunotherapy. Allergy injections are usually given three to five years, but some patients require immunotherapy indefinitely.

References:
1. ENT Associates of Alabama
2. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology
3. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology
4. WebMD
5. Wikipedia

 

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