What are Allergies? Symptoms, Treatments, & More (2022 Updated)
An allergic reaction is your body’s natural defense against foreign invaders such as viruses, bacteria, or allergens. When your body encounters these invaders, proteins called immunoglobulin E (IgE) recognize them as a threat and trigger your immune system to respond by creating antibodies to attack the invader.
If you have allergies, your immune system responds more strongly than usual to specific triggers — usually pollen or pet dander — and produces an abundance of IgE antibodies in response. These antibodies signal other cells to release histamines and other chemicals that create the adverse symptoms we associate with allergies: Itchy eyes, runny nose, swollen throat and hives are all common indicators of an overactive immune response triggered by an allergy.
What are the Most Common Types of Allergies?
Allergies that affect your lungs, ears, nose and throat are known as “asthma allergies.” Those that affect your skin, fingers and toes are known as “dermatitis allergens.” Here are the most common types of allergies and their symptoms:
1. Breathing Allergies
asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), rhinitis
Symptoms: wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and chest pain
2. Skin Allergies
Symptoms: red, itchy skin
3. Food Allergies
Food allergy, lactose intolerance
Symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea, cramping and abdominal pain
4. Blood Allergies
hemolytic anemia, autoimmune hemolytic anemia
Symptoms: fatigue, weakness, and pain in the joints.
Food Allergies: When Eating is Out of the Question
Food allergies are a very serious medical condition and can be deadly, so if you or your child has them, they must be treated and avoided at all costs. Allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, milk, eggs and soy are the most common types of food allergies. Most people who have food allergies have IgE allergies to specific foods. This is a very serious condition that can lead to a life-threatening reaction if the offending food is eaten.
One in 13 people in the U.S. has a food allergy. The best way to treat food allergies is to avoid the foods that trigger the allergic reaction. If you have a food allergy, you can’t just avoid eating the food you’re allergic to — you must also avoid touching it. You may want to invest in special rubber gloves and washcloths, as well as special sponges and mops for your kitchen. You should also avoid cooking utensils, pots, pans and dishes that have come into contact with the food you’re allergic to.
Environmental Allergies: Why Being Indoors Can be Tricky
Environmental allergies are triggered by indoor allergens, like dust mites, animal dander and mold spores. Although they’re less likely to trigger a life-threatening reaction, they can create a significant amount of discomfort — and often go undetected because many people assume they’re just experiencing “normal” allergies. If you live in a dusty, moldy or furry environment, there’s a good chance you have an environmental allergy.
Environmental allergies are usually treated with over-the-counter allergy medications, allergy shots or allergy-reducing medication such as antihistamines. If you suspect you have an environmental allergy, start by cleaning your house thoroughly. Wash all your bedding in hot water, vacuum your floors and furniture regularly and use an air purifier or an ionic air cleaner to remove allergens from your indoor air.
Dust Mite Allergies: Finding Protection Amidst the Dirt
Dust mites are tiny, microscopic bugs that feed on the dead skin and debris that collects in your bedding, furniture and carpets. Allergic reactions to dust mites are common in people who are allergic to animals — particularly cats — or who have allergies to mold. The best way to reduce exposure to dust mites is to reduce clutter in your home, wash all your bedding regularly in hot water and vacuum your floors regularly.
You can also use special covers and encasings for your furniture and pillows to contain dust mites and allergens. If you have dust mite allergies, you may also want to consider getting a special air purifier or air filtration system. These devices trap dust mites and other allergens in the air before they can reach your lungs. You can also use air filters to reduce the amount of dust in the air around you.
Toxin and Chemical Exposure: Sometimes the Basics are Best
Not all allergies are triggered by airborne irritants — some are caused by chemical or toxin exposure. Many people with chemical or toxin allergies suffer from allergies to rubber, latex, petrochemicals or pesticides. If you suffer from allergies due to toxin or chemical exposure, you may benefit from allergy shots but may also need additional treatment, such as allergy medications or allergy-reducing medications.
That said, allergies caused by a toxin or chemical exposure can also be treated by adhering to a clean lifestyle. If you use latex gloves at work, don’t touch your face or your eyes and wash your hands regularly. Avoid using pesticides in your home and avoid coming into contact with petrochemicals, such as gasoline and paint.
Identify Your Allergy Triggers
If you’ve experienced symptoms of an allergy, it’s important to identify the source of the allergy so you can take steps to avoid it. You can do this by keeping a log of the times you experience symptoms. Pay attention to when and where they occur, as well as any other factors that might contribute to them (e.g., stress, lack of sleep).
Once you can identify the conditions that trigger your allergies, you can take steps to reduce your exposure. For example, if you’re allergic to pet hair, you might want to get a lint brush for your clothing and vacuum your car more frequently.
If you identify the source of your allergies, you can easily treat them by limiting your exposure to the trigger. If your allergies are severe, however, or if you experience frequent symptoms, you may want to speak to your doctor about treatment options.
For respiratory allergies, you may be prescribed an inhaler or allergy shots; for food allergies, you may be prescribed an epinephrine shot; for blood and toxin allergies, you may be prescribed allergy-reducing medication such as antihistamines. Allergy shots can be a very effective treatment for allergies, but they’re not without drawbacks.
Conclusion: Prevention of Allergies
They’re expensive, they’re time-consuming, and they can cause side effects such as pain, swelling, itching and even anaphylaxis. Allergies are serious medical condition that affects millions of people each year. If you suffer from allergies, it’s important to identify the source of your symptoms and take steps to reduce your exposure to allergens.
Allergies can be treated with medication and allergy shots, but the best way to prevent allergies is to clean up your environment, avoid the allergens you’re sensitive to, and stay away from common allergens such as peanuts, dairy, eggs and peanuts.