Allergies are common conditions affecting approximately 1 in 4 people in the US. Allergies occur when the body is hypersensitive to a substance.
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Reviewed by Dr Roy Kedem, MD
Information last reviewed 08/03/20
An allergy is an overreaction of the immune system to a food or substance, which causes allergic symptoms such as sneezing, wheezing, or a rash.
Medzino offers a wide range of FDA approved prescription medications for allergy relief:
These products can help to provide relief from seasonal allergies, pet allergies, and dust allergies etc. However, they may not be suitable for allergies that affect the skin and allergies caused by the ingestion of food or medications. Therefore, you should seek advice from your regular physician regarding these conditions. In addition, these products are not suitable for severe allergic reactions, such as anaphylaxis. If you are at risk of anaphylaxis, you should speak to your doctor for advice.
Different allergens (allergy-causing substances) can enter the body in different ways. For example, pollen is likely to be inhaled, food is likely to be eaten, and latex is likely to be in contact with the skin.
When an allergen comes into contact with the body, the immune system overreacts. This is also referred to as ‘hypersensitivity’ because the body is too sensitive to the allergen and over-compensates.
This overreaction produces the symptoms of an allergic reaction such as a runny nose, itchy eyes, or a rash.
Most medications used to treat allergies are antihistamines. They work by reducing the immune system’s response to the allergen.
The hygiene hypothesis is the idea that children who are brought up in a clean environment are more likely to develop allergies. This suggests that exposure to allergens from an early age may be protective against developing allergies. However, this hypothesis is not confirmed and does not take into account genetic and other environmental factors that can contribute to the development of allergies.
Both genetic and environmental factors can lead people to develop allergies.
The likelihood of having an allergy is increased if one or both of your parents have the same allergy. The predisposition for some allergies can be detected via genetic testing. However, it is worth keeping in mind that many people do develop allergies that are not found in either parent.
There are a number of environmental factors related to the development of allergies, including:
The immune system defends the body from infections. This helps us to fight off infections and to recover from illnesses. Sometimes, the immune system perceives an innocuous substance as a threat. These substances are called allergens. As the immune system perceives a threat, it tries to defend the body, which can produce the symptoms of an allergic reaction. To start with, the effects of this may go unnoticed, but as you are repeatedly exposed to allergens, the immune system can build an immunological memory. This is a valuable protective skill to improve the immune system's response when the threat is a real danger. But, this can also mean that the immune system starts to overreact when exposed to an allergen.
Allergic reactions are caused by substances known as allergens. Common allergens include:
Allergies can begin at any stage of life. Food allergies, in particular, tend to develop in early childhood. Adult-onset allergies can also occur. This can be due to lifestyle changes meaning that a previously-undetected allergy becomes noticeable (e.g. getting a new pet and discovering you are allergic to it). However, adult-onset allergies can also occur spontaneously, with no obvious cause.
Allergic reactions usually begin within a few minutes of exposure to the allergen. This is particularly true of reactions that involve the eyes, skin, or respiratory system. However, allergic reactions can begin several hours later in the case of food and other ingested allergens.
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can be life-threatening. If someone is experiencing anaphylaxis symptoms, it is vital that they get medical attention as soon as possible. Many people who have a known anaphylactic reaction to an allergen will carry an Epi-pen with them. An Epi-pen is a device that injects adrenaline. They are easy to use and contain simple instructions on the outside so you can help someone if they have an anaphylactic reaction.
The symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
The symptoms of an allergic reaction can vary from person to person and depend upon the allergen involved. For example, allergens such as pollen tend to be inhaled, causing respiratory symptoms such as sneezing and watering eyes. Whereas, a latex allergy tends to occur upon contact with the skin, so it is more likely to cause a localized rash instead.
Allergy symptoms include:
Without medical tests, it may not be possible to identify what you are allergic to. However, it might help to consider the following questions:
An allergist or an ENT (ear, nose, throat) specialist is someone you will see if over the counter medications do not relieve your symptoms. Symptoms of allergies vary from sneezing, rashes to troubled breathing. The doctors can recommend a few tests to find out for sure.
One of the most common and accurate methods to diagnose allergies is via a skin prick test. Circles are drawn on the arm or the back, and a small droplet containing an allergen is placed inside the circle. The skin is pricked or scratched with a needle to allow the body to respond to the allergen. The skin prick test can produce results within 15 minutes.
Blood tests can also be used to detect allergies. This is usually done when a skin test is inconclusive or unsuitable. The blood sample needs to be sent to a lab for analysis, so it can take much longer to get the results.
The elimination diet is used to identify possible food allergies. If a food allergy is suspected, the doctor may ask you to eliminate it from your diet completely. If the food was triggering an allergic reaction, your allergy symptoms would likely resolve.
Depending on the type of allergic reaction you experience, you may find that steroid nasal spray, eye drops, or immunotherapy are effective treatment options. Nasal sprays work well for nasal symptoms, eye drops can help to alleviate eye irritation, and immunotherapy can work for a wide range of allergies. However, immunotherapy is a long and expensive process, so it is usually only recommended for people with severe allergies that cannot be treated by other means. If you want to avoid medications altogether, the best option is to try to avoid the allergen as much as possible.
Currently, there is no cure for allergies, but allergies can be treated. Treatments such as immunotherapy, which reduce your body's sensitivity to allergens, can help reduce your allergy symptoms more permanently.
Some people do grow out of allergies as they get older, but this does not apply to everyone. Approximately 80% of children with an allergy to eggs, milk or wheat will have outgrown their allergy by age 16. A skin prick test or a blood test can help you to find out if your allergy has resolved.
Both allergies and antihistamines can make you tired. If you experience tiredness due to allergies, you may want to avoid taking antihistamines, which can cause drowsiness. If you experience drowsiness as a side effect of antihistamines, you should avoid driving or operating machinery.
Allergies can cause itchy or watery eyes. Both antihistamine eye drops and oral antihistamines can help to alleviate these symptoms.
Allergies can be treated with a range of different medications, including antihistamines, corticosteroids and immunotherapy.
Antihistamines work by reducing the histamine levels in your body. When you come into contact with an allergen, the body produces histamine. It is histamine that leads to the symptoms of allergies such as a runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing etc.
Nasal sprays, such as Fluticasone, contain corticosteroids, which help to reduce inflammation in the nose. This helps to reduce sneezing, a runny nose, and other nasal irritation.
Immunotherapy can take the form of tablets or injections. It retrains your immune system over several months by exposing you to small amounts of the allergen over time so you can build up a tolerance.
Autoimmune conditions are caused when the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells and tissues. Allergies are caused by the immune system overreacting to an allergen, but as allergens are not naturally found in the body, allergies would not be classed as an autoimmune condition.
Allergies are not contagious; they cannot be passed from one person to another.
Pollen allergies can become worse when it rains. This is because the rainfall disturbs the pollen, causing more of it to enter the air.
People often report that pollen allergies are worse in the morning. This is because pollen levels are usually at their peak between 5 am and 10 am. Therefore, if you find that your seasonal allergies are worse in the morning, you may want to stay inside during this time.
Not everyone finds that allergies get worse at night. This depends upon the type of allergy you have. There are various reasons why your allergies may get worse at night. One obvious reason is that you may do different things, or spend time in different places as it gets later. Some people spend more time with their pets in the evening or may have allergens in their bedroom, such as, down-filled pillows or comforters. You may also find that your allergic symptoms worsen at night as the hormones in your body that help regulate your allergic symptoms can decrease while you sleep. This can exacerbate symptoms such as a runny nose, itchy eyes, and sneezing.
Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. You and your physician will determine if and how you should take any medication prescribed to you following a medical consultation.
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