What Are Allergies?
Explanation of Allergy Basics for the new Allergy Sufferer
What are allergies?
Just ask the 44 million Americans suffering from one form of an allergy or another. Allergies present themselves when your body mistakes a harmless substance for something dangerous, thus trying to rid itself of this danger. While your body attempts to excrete the allergen (foreign substance), it causes allergy-like symptoms, such as itchy watery eyes, sneezing, and nose reactions, including a runny, itchy or stuffy nose. The first time your body reacts to an allergen, it does so by producing allergens. Each subsequent time it’s exposed to that allergen, your body produces increased amounts of antibodies to that allergen, until your body eventually experiences the symptoms.
Generations of Allergy Sufferers
Allergies can last a lifetime if started as a child, or diminish as one gets older. Allergies can suddenly develop in adulthood, as well. Experts still aren’t sure why some people develop allergies while others do not. What they do know, however, is that allergies are genetic. A child is 75% to 80% more likely to suffer from allergies if both parents have them, 25% if only one parent has allergies, and about 10% on their own, without the influence of any parent having allergies. There is no guarantee that the child will be sensitive to the same allergens as his or her parent because it is more likely that the inherited allergies are simply sensitivity to allergens in general, rather than a specific allergen. If as a child, your body produced an antibody to a particular substance, that antibody would still be present in your body as an adult. Note that if a child is susceptible to inheriting allergies, be sure they are not exposed to triggers such as cigarette smoke, pet dander, dust and dust mites; allergens that increase any child’s chances of developing allergies.
Hives are the most common result of allergens affecting the skin. Hives look like red, bumpy patches of skin that are itchy and sometimes exhibit an oozing, puss like reaction. They vary in size from nearly microscopic to the size of a coin. There are no guarantees as to the amount of time one suffers from hives. They have been known to last a few minutes to a few days, and return without warning. Hives can develop anywhere on the body, most commonly the face, lips, tongue, throat, or ears, and can be dangerously fatal if not cared for immediately. The symptoms associated with having hives can be extremely dangerous if not attended to immediately. If you experience dizziness, wheezing, difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest, or swelling of the lips, tongue, face or throat, you should contact your doctor immediately.
Allergies vs. the Common Cold
Symptoms of allergies and symptoms of the common cold are similar. Overlooking such symptoms can result in an extended period of illness, leading to further complications. Be advised of the differences between allergies and the common cold, the times of year you experience such symptoms, and what you think may have triggered your ailment. Alert yourself by paying close attention to your symptoms. Knowing the difference between an allergy and a cold can protect you from unwanted ailments and medications. Below is a list of allergy symptoms that can help you rule-out the common cold.
- No fever
- Mucus is thin and clear rather than thick and yellow
- Quick, consecutive sneezes
- Symptoms last weeks, not days
- Persistent itchiness in the ears, throat, nose, and mouth palate.
Perennial versus Seasonal Allergies
Perennial allergies are those that affect you year-round and do not change with the seasons. Examples include something in your home, office space, car, or other places you may spend a great deal of time. Perennial allergies include may include dust, both airborne and immobile, dust mites found in your mattress and pillow, pet dander, pet saliva, cigarette smoke, or mold spores, which can be found throughout your home and office. Your symptoms may expose themselves on a continuous basis, or show-up several times throughout the year. There are many ways to determine whether you are allergic to your home, office and/or car interior. The first step is to check with your doctor as soon as your symptoms appear. Your doctor may want to perform allergy tests in the form of skin or blood tests. These tests will help to determine the source of your perennial allergies. Your doctor can then advise you what to avoid, and what medications are best for you. You may also want to ask your doctor about changing your lifestyle habits in order to best avoid recurring symptoms.
Seasonal allergies carry with them many symptoms associated with hay fever or rhinitis. Suffering from rhinitis basically means having difficulties with your nose, the main area seasonal allergies attack. Rhinitis comes as a result of an allergy to airborne pollen found in trees, plants, grass, or various weeds. Allergies affect your nose through the process inhaling, filtering out bad substances, and exhaling. Your nose is doing its job when it filters out unwanted substances and prevents them from entering your lungs. Rhinitis comes as a result of breathing in an allergen that does not get filtered out into the air. Rather, it lodges itself in the mucus lining your nasal passages, causing cells to dilate, and leak fluid, resulting in an itchy, watery and inflamed nose. The same cells found in your nose are also found in your eyes, therefore causing irritation to the eyes as well. This explains why those with allergies may very well suffer from sinuses as well. Due to the overwhelming types of pollen carried by the wind, no two people’s allergies will be generated by the same source of pollen, therefore it is highly unlikely to have the exact allergies as the next person. It is possible, however, to have an allergy to the same tree in one form or another. It is also possible to suffer from perennial allergies and seasonal allergies at the same time. If your symptoms worsen in the spring and fall due to the outdoors, then there is a good chance you are sensitive to the outdoors as well as the indoors.
Your doctor can determine the exact cause of your allergies through blood and skin tests, and put you on a treatment plan towards a lifestyle without all those sneezes. Medications commonly prescribed by doctors include antihistamines to help reduce sneezing, itching and a runny nose, decongestants and nasal sprays to help open-up the nasal passageways for easier breathing, and immunotherapy (allergy shots). Do not take any of these of these medications without consulting your doctor first. You may cause yourself more harm than good. Check with your doctor for more information on the medication that’s right for you.