Allergies - What Causes Them and How Do You Get Relief?
We all have friends, family members, or colleagues who sneeze continuously or feel itchy when there’s smoke or dust around them. Whatever the reaction or the reactant is, the underlying condition will be the same: allergies.
Children and adults around the world suffer from various types of allergies. Dust and pollen are common allergens. Some people experience a reaction when they eat a certain food.
- More than 50 million people in the United States suffer an allergic reaction every year.
- 6.1 million children and 20 million adults are affected by hay fever.
- In Canada alone, 8.4 million people have been diagnosed with allergies.
Although the term allergy is thrown around casually, there’s no one type. Mild allergies cause discomfort, while severe allergies can be life-threatening if they’re not dealt with. In this article, we’ll discuss everything you should know about allergies.
What Are Allergies?
It’s no secret that your body has a defense mechanism. Whenever a potentially harmful foreign substance enters your body, your immune system resists it by producing antibodies. Sometimes, your immune system identifies a foreign body as dangerous, even though it isn’t. This reaction of the immune system is called an allergy or allergic reaction.
How Does an Allergic Reaction Occur?
The job of your immune system is to defend your body against dangerous bacteria and viruses. However, sometimes it fights against substances that are harmless. Your immune system’s response to invaders is to produce antibodies. These proteins act as messengers and ask cells to attack the substance. To protect the body, the cells release histamine. Histamine causes blood vessels to dilate and sets off certain chemical reactions, which produce an allergic response.
Typically, a person doesn’t suffer symptoms the first time such an event occurs in the body. The immune system takes time to develop sensitivity to allergens. It begins to recognize these substances and forms antibodies to fight them over a period of time. The process is called sensitization.
You might be interested to know that the body develops antibodies for each type of allergen. For example, if someone is allergic to dust and peanuts, their body will produce different antibodies to attack each of these substances. Some allergies can be seasonal, with symptoms depending on the presence of the allergen and the environmental factors that contribute to the reaction.
Causes of Allergies
Medical professionals and researchers haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact cause of allergic reactions.
Although no one can tell why your immune system defends your body against a harmless element, most cases are attributed to genetics. If someone in your family suffers from an allergy, you have a higher chance of developing one. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get the same type of allergy.
There are various triggers to an allergic reaction, some of which you might already know. Each trigger is responsible for different types of allergies. They include:
- Airborne substances like plant pollens, mold and mildew, and dust mites
- Animal-based triggers like pet dander, pet fur, saliva, and skin flakes
- Stings from insects like bees, wasps, and mosquitoes
- Insects like cockroaches and caddisflies
- Penicillin and penicillin-based medicines and drugs
- Foods like peanuts, milk, wheat, soy, tree nuts, shellfish, and eggs (particularly egg whites)
- Pollens from trees, grasses, and weed
- Latex, household chemicals, and certain metals you come into contact with
“Allergic rhinitis can be caused by either an indoor or outdoor allergen. With outdoor allergens, you have to live through the season a few times to become sensitized. We tend to see outdoor triggered seasonal allergy symptoms in children after age 3, classically ages 5 to 6. Indoor allergen-triggered symptoms can be seen earlier, as early as 1 year of age – because of things they’re exposed to in the home on a regular basis, such as dust mites and pets,” says Kathryn Ruda Wessell, DO, a pediatric allergist.
Common Symptoms of Allergies
The severity of allergic reactions differs from person to person. Some will suffer mild symptoms that can be easily relieved, while others will face severe, sometimes life-threatening reactions. Depending on the type of allergen, the amount of it, and the part of the body in which the reaction occurs, common symptoms of allergies may include:
- Excessive sneezing
- Blocked nose
- Runny nose
- Irritation and itchiness in the nose and eyes
- Watery, swollen, or red eyes, commonly called allergic conjunctivitis
- Coughing and wheezing
- Swollen lips, face, and throat
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Stomach cramps
- Skin irritation and itchiness
- Hives or redness and rashes
- Tightness in the chest
In certain severe cases, people suffer from anaphylaxis. An extreme form of an allergic reaction, anaphylaxis is life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. It is typically caused by certain foods, medications, insect bites, and latex.
A person suffering from anaphylaxis might experience hives, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Some people will exhibit the usual symptoms, like a runny nose or sneezing, which gradually worsen into the serious problems mentioned above. Many people will have a rapid pulse rate.
Even if the anaphylaxis subsides or is resolved, a second attack can occur within 12 hours of the first one. In such cases, it is best to seek immediate medical help.
Dealing with Allergies
Whether you have mild, moderate, or severe allergic reactions, there’s a solution for them all. Although medication might not cure your allergy, it can help you cope with and manage it better. Depending on the type and severity of your allergy, a doctor might prescribe:
- Antihistamines to counter the effects of histamine, a chemical released during an allergic reaction
- Decongestants to give you relief from a blocked nose
- Nasal sprays or inhalers, especially in the case of a respiratory reaction
- Pills or creams to deal with itchiness or hives
If precautionary measures and medicines do not work, doctors might also prescribe allergy shots. This is called immunotherapy and is known to be effective in cases of hay fever and allergic asthma. You can also find nature derived supplements that block histamine and provide relief from various allergic reactions.
Allergies are best dealt with as early as possible. If you experience any symptoms, consult your doctor for guidance and solutions. GNA Naturals is your store for natural supplements. Whether you need an allergy relief solution or a vitamin supplement to make up for the lack of a particular nutrient due to a food allergy, you can find it all here. Make sure you consult your doctor before taking them.