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A Guide to Allergies, What Are the Types, Causes and Management.

How to live with allergies and their complications.

You might have seen many people having runny noses whenever there is a slight change in the weather. Or yourself getting a reaction from the food at a restaurant while your fellows didn’t. This is because your body has responded to foreign substances such as food, considering it as a harmful thing for your body. Nearly the majority of us either have an allergy ourselves or are acquainted with someone who does.

WHAT ARE ALLERGIES?

It is your body’s response to a material it perceives as a threat. Your immune system overreacts to an allergen, resulting in an allergic response. People who have allergies are often more sensitive to more than one thing.

Your body’s defense system (immune system) could respond to pollen, for example, even though pollen is typically considered harmless.

But what causes allergies? Allergens. An allergen is a chemical that wrongly causes the immune system to go into hyperactivity. All types of substances, including pollen and peanuts, may be allergens. But why can allergens cause individuals to sneeze and snuffle, break out in rashes, and have other unpleasant allergic reactions?

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, around 50 million Americans struggle with allergy at any one moment (ACAAI).

However, they can often be confused with other conditions, such as a cold, flu, COVID-19, or food intolerance.

The immune system’s purpose is to protect the body. It prevents harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungus from entering the body. It acts to eliminate any of them that enter the body. The immune system consists of an intricate network of cells and organs. All of them serve to defend the body against illness.

Allergic responses are caused by the immune system’s hypersensitive response to harmless chemicals, such as those found in food. The immune system has a memory and a purpose for everything; when foreign material is identified as dangerous, white blood cells begin to manufacture tailored antibodies that will detect the offender the next time it is present and activate the body’s defenses. Occasionally, however, the body distinguishes harmless items, such as pollen, by releasing inflammatory chemicals, such as histamines, which stimulate nerve cells and cause nasal congestion and sneezing. Inhaling, ingesting, or touching allergens may cause reactions.

Each form of IgE possesses an allergen-specific “radar.” Immunoglobulin E, an antibody produced by the body, is connected to allergic responses including hay fever, some kinds of asthma, and hives (IgE). Each IgE antibody may have a high degree of specificity. This indicates that it responds to pollen and other allergies. For instance, a person may be sensitive to one pollen type but not another. Similarly, some individuals are just sensitive to cat dander (they only have the cat-specific IgE antibodies), whereas others have allergic responses to many allergens.

TYPES OF ALLERGIEStypes of allergies

There are several allergen kinds. There are seasonal allergies and year-round allergies. Some sensitivities might be permanent. The following are some common types of allergic reactions.

1. Pollen Allergy (Allergic Rhinitis)

Hay fever, or seasonal allergic rhinitis, is an allergic reaction to pollen. It leads to inflammation and congestion of the nasal lining and the eye’s protective tissues (conjunctiva). Pollen is a common allergen. There are two kinds of allergic rhinitis: seasonal and perennial. Seasonal allergies are more common in the spring and autumn and are caused by environmental allergens such as pollen. Perennial allergies may occur all year or at any time of year in reaction to indoor pollutants such as dust mites and animal dander. Hay fever affects an estimated 18 million Americans. 

Common symptoms include:

  • Stuffy, runny or itchy nose,
  • Recurrent sneezing
  • Throat irritation and coughing,
  • Dark circles,
  • Itchy watery eyes,
  • Recurrent headache,
  • Eczema symptoms like dry, itchy skin which possesses bumps hives, and may even release fluid upon scratching,
  • Fatigue due to (nasal blockage, people often have trouble sleeping.

Symptoms generally appear quickly after exposure to an allergen. Recurrent headaches and exhaustion may occur following long-term allergen exposure. Hay fever doesn’t cause temperature. Pollen exposure may trigger allergic asthma attacks (wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing, and/or chest tightness) in certain individuals.

Common irritants may also cause symptoms, such as tobacco smoke, strong scents such as perfume, air freshener or hair spray, cleaning products, pool chlorine, automobile exhaust, and other air pollutants (i.e., ozone). 10-30% of the world’s population has hay fever.

 2. Food Allergy

Food allergies are immunological reactions to specific foods and are one of the most common types of allergy in the US.  In particular, they impact around 6% of adults and 8% of children. Fish, peanuts, shellfish, and tree nuts account for the majority of food allergies among adults. Although food allergies often develop in childhood, they may also occur in adults. In the United States, for example, hundreds of millions of people may safely and cheerfully enjoy peanut butter, yet 3 million others experience anything from itching hives to fatal throat swelling if they ingest the incorrect legume.

Food allergies and food intolerances are not the same. In food allergic responses, the immune system responds excessively to a dietary protein. An immediate onset of allergic reactions after swallowing the meal is possible. Food-induced allergic responses may be life-threatening and special precautions must be taken in this case.

There are numerous forms of allergic responses to foods. There are variations between IgE-mediated allergies, non-IgE-mediated allergies, and dietary intolerances.

  • IgE-mediated: In this food allergy, IgE antibodies react with particular foods. The immune system uses antibodies to identify and fight illness. An IgE-mediated allergic response may cause moderate to severe symptoms, including anaphylaxis, within hours after consuming a food allergen.
  • Non-IgE-mediated: In a non-IgE food allergy, your immune system does not produce IgE antibodies, but other components respond to the potential harm. Non-IgE-mediated allergy reactions frequently feature cutaneous or digestive symptoms, or a combination of both symptoms, including vomiting and diarrhea, and may develop up to 3 days after consuming the food allergen.

Food allergy symptoms include,

  • Itching,
  • Nausea,
  • Tingling of lips,
  • Hives,
  • Periorbital (around the mouth) swelling, tingling, and redness
  • Vomiting,
  • Abdomen pain,
  • Diarrhea,
  • Difficulty breathing.

Although any food might potentially induce an allergy, the vast majority of food allergies are caused by only 8 foods. And FDA suggests these foods cause 90% of food allergic responses in the US. Want to learn how such foods can react and cause allergies? Read the article here.

3. Latex Allergy.alllergy symptoms

A latex allergy is an allergic response to latex derived from natural rubber. Rubber gloves, such as those used in surgery or for household cleaning, are a leading cause of this sort of response. Latex is present in latex gloves, latex balloons, latex condoms, and other natural rubber items.

Latex allergy symptoms may range from minor to severe. They may emerge straight away or up to a few hours after being exposed to latex, depending on the amount of time that has passed. The first time you come into contact with latex, you may not experience any symptoms. Allergy symptoms to latex include

  • Skin irritation,
  • Rashes or hives,
  • Runny nose,
  • Trouble breathing,
  • Itchy red skin,
  • Sneezing

An allergic response to latex may also cause anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal allergic reaction. Three latex responses have been studied:

  • Contact dermatitis. It’s not an allergic skin response and is the least harmful form. Repeated exposure to latex gloves causes dryness, itching, burning, scaling, and skin concerns. Typically, this begins 12 to 24 hours following contact.
  • Allergic contact dermatitis. This is a delayed response to latex processing ingredients. It produces identical symptoms to irritating contact dermatitis. However, the response is more intense, extends to more body regions, and lasts longer. Symptoms might begin anywhere between 1- and 4-days following exposure to latex.
  • Immediate hypersensitivity (latex hypersensitivity). This is the most severe situation. It may manifest as a nasal allergy with symptoms similar to hay fever, conjunctivitis (pinkeye), cramps, hives, and intense itching. Rarely, symptoms may also include a fast pulse, tremors, chest discomfort, difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, or anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic response.

4.3% of the general population is latex-allergic. It is also occupation-specific such as 10% of healthcare workers are allergic to latex. There is no treatment for this allergy. People with this problem should avoid latex-containing goods and consider wearing a medical alert bracelet.

4. Mold Allergy

Molds are widespread fungi. Molds that grow in our homes love dark, damp locations and may be dangerous to persons with mold-sensitive immune systems.

Mold allergies may be airborne or foodborne. Mushrooms, cheese, fermented foods, wines, and vinegar-containing meals may cause mold allergies. Mold allergy produces upper respiratory allergy symptoms including,

  • Runny nose,
  • Itching in the nose,
  • Sneezing,
  • Coughing,
  • Watery eyes,
  • Dry and scaly skin.

Approximately 1 in 5 persons in the United States have been diagnosed with environmental allergies, according to some studies.

5. Insect Allergy

An insect allergy is a hypersensitivity to insects. It might be a response to biting or stinging or pest remains in the home. Insect venom allergies may range from a mild local sensitivity to anaphylaxis. An allergic reaction may happen to anybody, even those who have never been stung before. The severity of sting symptoms varies from individual to individual. But in general, a typical response cause,

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Redness and bump on the stung area.
  • Warmth,
  • Severe itching.

A local response results in swelling spreading beyond the location of the sting. For instance, a person stung on the ankle may have leg inflammation. Despite its unsettling appearance, it is often no more dangerous than normal response. The most frequent symptoms are associated with the skin, including hives (a raised, itchy rash) or significant inflammation. Large local responses reach their peak after 48 hours and then improve progressively over the next seven to ten days.

5% of people have insect sting allergies.

Extreme allergic responses (anaphylaxis) after an insect bite or sting may be fatal and require immediate medical attention. Symptoms often include many organ systems, such as the skin or mouth, lungs, heart, and intestines. Among the symptoms are:

  • Rash, itching, or hives of the skin
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat
  • Vertigo and/or fainting
  • Breathlessness, difficulty breathing, or wheezing
  • Abdominal discomfort, vomiting, bloating, or diarrhea
  • Fearing that something terrible is likely to occur

The most frequent stinging insects that provoke an allergic response include bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, and fire ants. Insects that do not sting may also potentially trigger allergic responses. Dust mites and cockroaches are the most prevalent pests. These two insects may be the most prevalent allergens responsible for year-round allergies and asthma.

Allergies to the poison of stinging insects affect over 2 million Americans. If you’ve had any of these symptoms after an insect sting or bite, you’re more likely to have another severe response from the same insect. It is always recommended that one should see an immunology/allergy expert.

6. Pet Allergy

Most pet allergies are induced by pet dander. Any furry animal may cause pet allergies but cats and dogs cause most pet allergies. More people are allergic to cats than to dogs. The allergen in cats and dogs is produced by their saliva, urine, and dander, not their hair as proven by researchers.

Allergies may be triggered by saliva, perspiration, urine, and dander. Mold, pollen, and other outside allergens are often trapped in pet hair. No hairy mammal is hypoallergenic, despite popular belief. Even short hair or fur that doesn’t shed might build up dander. Even “hairless” breeds are susceptible to this phenomenon. If you are allergic to a pet, you may experience symptoms immediately or a few days later.

  • Itchy, reddened, or watering eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose and sinus congestion
  • Itchy nose, palate, or throat.
  • Cough
  • Sleep disturbances and awakenings
  • Facial pressure and pain
  • Blue-colored, swollen skin under your eyes
  • Frequent upward nose rubbing in children

Most of these are also classic cold symptoms. However, if they linger longer than two weeks, you may have a sensitivity and should see a physician.

7. Drug Allergy

Drug allergy is a pharmaceutical allergy. Your immune system responds to the medicine in an allergic response. The condition is rare. Less than 5 to 10% of medication responses are allergic. Common allergens, in this case, are penicillin (10%) and similar antimicrobials, sulfonamide-containing antibiotics (sulfa drugs), anticonvulsants, and Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and anticancer medicines. Symptoms include rash, fever, and breathing problems. An allergy to medication may have minimal symptoms. You may get nothing worse than a small rash. Symptoms include,

  • Hives or a rash
  • Itching
  • Wheezing or other trouble breathing
  • Anaphylaxis.

Some medicines may induce an anaphylactic response upon first administration. Such as morphine, X-ray dyes, Chemotherapy drugs, local anesthetics, and aspirin in rare cases.

RISK FACTORS

The chance of acquiring an allergy may be raised if a person has the following factors,

  • Genetics. Allergies are genetic. If you have allergic relatives, you’re at risk. This is referred to as atopy. Your immune system produces IgE antibodies in reaction to allergens more often than typical. Research is seeking to find which genes make individuals more allergic.
  • Childhood. Children with developing immune system exposure are more prone to allergies. As children age and their immune function matures, they may outgrow allergies. Children and newborns who are exposed to secondhand smoke have an increased chance of developing sensitivities even smoking in pregnancy can raise the risk equally.
  • Asthma/other allergic reactions. Asthma may trigger allergy symptoms and vice versa, increasing a person’s allergy risk. Having one allergy or condition might make a person more sensitive to others (allergens). The immune system already feels threatened since the body has generated particular antibodies to resist foreign substances.
  • Race and Ethnicity. The likelihood of developing an allergy varies significantly by race and ethnicity. The research discovered that Caucasians are almost three times more likely to suffer from allergies than Asians. Whereas, African-American and Hispanic children had a greater incidence of food allergy compared to white children.
  • Gender. According to new research, women are more likely to suffer from allergies than men due to genetic differences between the sexes.

DIAGNOSING ALLERGIES

Identifying your allergies may seem like a guessing game. Once the allergen is identified, you and your doctor can treat your symptoms. An allergy test is a safest and most reliable method for determining what is causing your symptoms. The allergens dust mite dander, animal dander, mold, and pollen all induce allergic responses.

Doctors identify the cause of allergy in three steps, the First is a medical and family history, the medications you use, and your home, school, and work life. If there is a susceptibility that you have an allergy, the doctor will do a thorough examination of your ears, eyes, nose, throat, chest, and skin. This checkup may involve a lung function test to measure breath. Your lungs or sinuses may require X-rays. And to determine allergens, a thorough test of the skin, patch, or blood test may be required.

Skin tests are by far the most prevalent kind of examination. A small amount of allergen is placed on the skin, which is subsequently pricked or scratched. A little swelling will occur at the site of the prick test if you are allergic. One may see a “wheel,” or a raised, circular region that resembles a hive. Typically, the bigger the wheel, the greater the likelihood of an allergy to the allergen. patch testing for allergies

-A positive skin test result does not identify an allergy on its own.
-The intensity of an allergic response cannot be predicted by a positive skin test.
-A negative skin test often indicates the absence of an allergy.

Test results are typically available within 15 minutes.

  • Intradermal testing is applied when the results of a prick test are questionable since it is much more sensitive. This test may be used to diagnose drug or venom allergy. Using a syringe, your allergist will inject allergen under your skin during this test. After around 20 minutes, the location is inspected for a response.
  • Challenge testing: When a healthcare professional suspects that a patient has a food or medicine allergy, they may utilize challenge tests. During this test, patients swallow or inhale a minute amount of possible allergens under the supervision of an allergist.
  • Patch testing. This test identifies the allergen responsible for contact dermatitis to something that a person has interacted with at home, leisure, or work. Patches containing test compounds in tiny chambers or discs are applied to a person’s back and then evaluated 48 to 96 hours later. If you are allergic to the chemical, a local rash should occur. This test does not detect urticaria or food allergy.
  • Blood testing. Blood tests may be done if you have a skin issue or take medication that interferes with skin testing. Children who don’t tolerate skin testing may also utilize them.  Your doctor will draw blood for testing. The lab adds an allergen to your blood sample and evaluates the antibodies it makes to fight it. There are two primary kinds of blood testing for allergies:

A total IgE test measures the total quantity of IgE antibodies present in the blood. A high level indicates that you have an allergy but does not calculate the severity or cause of the allergy.
A specific IgE test analyses the amount of IgE produced by the body in response to a particular allergen. High IgE test results indicate an allergy to the allergen examined. But IgE levels don’t indicate allergy severity.

Because of the potential for anaphylaxis, all of the mentioned tests need to be supervised by an allergist and must not be tried at home. Combining skin testing with a physical examination and medical history of your symptoms is the most accurate, cost-effective, and expedient method for identifying allergens. How can a physical exam be conducted in sequence? learn about it here.

ALLERGY TREATMENT OPTIONS

There are several treatments and preventive options for allergies.

Know Your Triggers

You may believe you’ve figured out the allergen, but you’d be wrong.  An allergist may do a skin test that will help you discover what substances cause you to have an allergic reaction. Keeping a journal may help someone determine the reason for an allergy. Keeping note of activities, activity, and nutrition might assist discover symptom causes.

Prevention

Avoiding the allergen that causes an allergic response is the most effective way to prevent allergic reactions. modifications in a house or environment are well researched and as follows

  • Food allergies may be life-threatening, but they can be managed. Avoiding trigger foods is one of the finest things you can do. Learn more about food allergies and their management here.
  • Wear a mask or glasses or sunglasses while outside to prevent pollen from your eyes and mouth.
  • Keep windows shut during heavy pollen days; use air conditioners in your house and vehicle.
  • Wash your hands after caressing any pet, and have a nonallergic person assist with pet grooming, ideally in a well-ventilated place or outdoors.
  • Dust mite allergies may be prevented by utilizing allergy-proof duvets and pillows and installing hardwood floors instead of carpet
  • Use “mite-proof” sleeping coverings to avoid exposure to dust mites and a dehumidifier to control mold.
Medications

Numerous medicines seek to alleviate allergy symptoms. Here are some typical examples:

  • Antihistamines- These medications are often used to treat allergies and hay fever. They neutralize the effects of histamines, which the body produces to help the immune system fight off viruses and other invaders. Over-the-counter and prescription antihistamines are available. They are available as tablets, liquids, nasal sprays, creams, and eye drops.
  • Nasal Spray Corticosteroids- Nasal corticosteroids minimize allergen-induced irritation. This spray helps reduce seasonal allergy symptoms such as nasal stuffiness, sneezing, and a runny nose.
  • Decongestants– Decongestants may alleviate nasal congestion and sinus discomfort. These drugs constrict nasal blood vessels and dilate nasal passageways.
  • Topical Creams/ Lotions- An allergic response may occasionally be managed with over-the-counter creams and lotions such as Using emollients (moisturizing creams) to create a barrier for allergens, calamine for reducing itching, and steroids for inflammation reduction.
Herbal Supplements

Butterbur is well-researched and promising. Studies show Ze 339 butterbur extract may function as effectively as antihistamines. Another research indicates that plant-based Phleum pratense & pycnogenol may also be beneficial.

Acupuncture

It might be a viable choice for those seeking non-pharmaceutical therapy. It is a possibility that this centuries-old method might provide some relief. Acupuncture treatment for nasal allergies has not yet been established. It seems to benefit in a few pieces of research, though. A study demonstrated acupuncture to be a safe and effective therapy for moderate to severe persistent allergic rhinitis. Consult with your physician first if you’re interested in acupuncture treatment.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy may be an option for some individuals with severe and chronic allergies who can’t manage their symptoms. Intravenous or sublingual immunotherapy involves giving a patient a regular dose of an allergen in order to help them develop resistance to it. Some individuals have found this to be helpful in reducing the severity of their allergies. The duration of therapy may range from 3 to 5 years with a person who may need weekly injections for around seven months, then every two weeks. As a person’s immunity improves, they may need a vaccination just once every four weeks.

Since allergy symptoms don’t always happen at the same time each season, there are many things that can affect when and how bad someone’s allergies are. If the allergen is in the air, you will have allergy symptoms no matter what time of year it is. But if you know what in the environment sets off your allergies, you can be ready, and when it comes to allergies, being ready is the most important thing. You can’t get away from the weather, but there are ways to make your symptoms less bad when it’s bad.

If your symptoms have been going on for more than a few weeks and don’t seem to be going away, you should talk to your primary care doctor about the possibility of sensitivities.

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Aimen

Being a Doctor by profession, Aimen is passionate about helping people get better health in their lives. Aimen enjoys her research on Prime With Time subjects and strives to create better awareness of the problems and changes related to women's health.
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