An allergy is a reaction of the immune system to a foreign material that is not normally harmful to the body. These foreign substances are called allergens. This can include certain foods, pollen, or animal dander.
Your immune system's job is to keep you healthy by fighting harmful pathogens. To do this, it attacks anything it thinks might pose a threat to your body. Depending on the allergen, this reaction may be accompanied by inflammation, sneezing, or a number of other symptoms.
Normally, your immune system adapts to your environment. For example, when your body encounters something like animal dander, it should recognize that it's harmless. In people with dander allergies, the immune system perceives it as an outside invader that threatens the body and attacks it.
Allergies are common. Various treatments can help you avoid your symptoms.
Symptoms of allergies
The symptoms you experience due to allergies are the result of several factors. These include the type of allergy and the severity of the allergy.
If you are taking medication prior to an expected allergic reaction, some of these symptoms may still occur, but they may be reduced.
For food allergies
Food allergies can cause swelling, hives, nausea, fatigue and more. It may take a while for a person to realize they have a food allergy. If you experience a severe reaction after a meal and aren't sure why, you should see a doctor right away. He or she can find out the exact cause of your reaction or refer you to a specialist.
For seasonal allergies
Hay fever symptoms can resemble those of a cold. These include congestion, runny nose and puffy eyes. In most cases, you can treat these symptoms at home with over-the-counter remedies. See your doctor if symptoms become uncontrollable.
For severe allergies
Severe allergies can lead to anaphylaxis. This is a life-threatening emergency that can cause difficulty breathing, drowsiness, and loss of consciousness. If you experience these symptoms after coming into contact with a possible allergen, seek medical attention immediately.
The signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction are different for everyone. Read more about allergy symptoms and their possible triggers.
Allergies of the skin
Skin allergies can be a sign or symptom of an allergy. They can also be the direct result of exposure to an allergen.
For example, eating a food to which you are allergic may cause several symptoms. You may experience a tingling sensation in your mouth and throat. You may also develop a rash.
Contact dermatitis, on the other hand, occurs when your skin comes into direct contact with an allergen. This can happen when you touch something you are allergic to, such as a cleaning product or a plant.
Types of skin allergies include:
Skin rashes. The skin areas are irritated, red, or swollen and may be painful or itchy.
Eczema. The skin areas become inflamed and may itch and bleed.
Contact dermatitis. Red, itchy areas of skin appear almost immediately after contact with an allergen.
Throat inflammation. Throat or pharynx are irritated or inflamed.
Hives. Red, itchy, raised wheals of various sizes and shapes form on the skin surface.
Swollen eyes. The eyes may be watery or itchy and look "puffy."
Itching. The skin is irritated or inflamed.
Burning. Skin inflammation causes discomfort and burning sensations on the skin.
Rashes are one of the most common symptoms of skin allergy. Learn how to recognize rashes and how to treat them.
Causes of allergies
Researchers do not know exactly why the immune system triggers an allergic reaction when a normally harmless foreign substance enters the body.
Allergies have a genetic component. This means that parents can pass them on to their children. However, only a general susceptibility to allergic reactions is genetic. Specific allergies are not inherited. For example, if your mother is allergic to shellfish, it doesn't necessarily mean you will be too.
Common types of allergens are:
Animal products. These include animal dander, dust mites and cockroaches.
Medications. Penicillin and sulfa drugs are common triggers.
Foods. Allergies to wheat, nuts, milk, shellfish, and eggs are common.
Insect bites. These include bees, wasps, and mosquitoes.
Mold. Mold spores in the air can trigger a reaction.
Plants. Pollen from grasses, weeds and trees, and resin from plants such as poison ivy and poison oak are very common plant allergens.
Other allergens. Latex, often found in latex gloves and condoms, and metals such as nickel are also common allergens.
Seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever, are among the most common allergies. They are caused by pollen released by plants. They cause:
Food allergies are becoming more and more common. Learn about the most common types of food allergies and the symptoms they cause.
Treatment of allergies
The best way to avoid allergies is to stay away from the trigger of the reaction. If that's not possible, there are treatment options.
Treatment for allergies often includes medications such as antihistamines to control symptoms. These medications may be over-the-counter or prescription. What your doctor recommends depends on the severity of your allergy.
Allergy medications include:
Antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl).
Cromolyn sodium (Gastrocrom)
Decongestants (Afrin, Suphedrin PE, Sudafed)
Leukotriene modifiers (Singulair, Zyflo).
Singulair should only be prescribed when there are no other suitable treatment options. This is because it increases your risk for serious behavioral and mood changes, such as suicidal thoughts and actionsTrusted Source.
Many people choose to have immunotherapy. This involves several injections over the course of a few years to help the body get used to the allergy. Successful immunotherapy can prevent allergy symptoms from returning.
If you have a severe, life-threatening allergy, you should carry an emergency epinephrine shot. The syringe counteracts allergic reactions until medical help arrives. Common brands for this treatment include EpiPen and Twinject.
Some allergic reactions are a medical emergency. Prepare for these emergency situations by knowing allergic reaction first aid.
Natural remedies for allergies
Many natural remedies and supplements are offered as ways to treat and even prevent allergies. Discuss these with your doctor before trying them. Some natural remedies may contain other allergens and make your symptoms worse.
For example, some dried teas use flowers and plants closely related to the plants that might trigger severe sneezing in you. The same is true of essential oils. Some people use these oils to relieve common allergy symptoms, but essential oils also contain ingredients that can trigger allergies.
For each type of allergy, there are a number of natural remedies that can speed healing. There are also natural options for allergies in children.
How allergies are diagnosed
Your doctor can diagnose allergies in several ways.
First, your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and perform a physical exam. He or she will ask about unusual things you've eaten recently and substances you may have come in contact with. For example, if you have a rash on your hands, your doctor will ask if you have put on latex gloves recently.
Finally, a blood test and skin test can confirm or diagnose allergens that your doctor suspects you may have.
Allergy blood test
Your doctor may order a blood test. Your blood will be tested for the presence of allergy-causing antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE). These are cells that react to allergens. Your doctor will perform a blood test to confirm the diagnosis if he or she is concerned about the potential for a severe allergic reaction.
Your doctor may also refer you to an allergist for testing and treatment. A skin test is a common type of allergy test performed by an allergist.
During this test, your skin is pricked or scratched with small needles that contain potential allergens. The reaction of your skin is documented. If you are allergic to a certain substance, your skin will become red and inflamed.
Several tests may be needed to diagnose all of your possible allergies. Start here to better understand how allergy tests work.
Prevention of symptoms
There is no way to prevent allergies. But there are ways to prevent symptoms from occurring. The best way to prevent allergy symptoms is to avoid the allergens that trigger them.
Avoidance is the most effective way to prevent food allergy symptoms. An elimination diet can help you determine the cause of your allergies so you know how to avoid them. To avoid food allergens, read food labels carefully and ask questions when you eat out.
To prevent seasonal, contact and other allergies, you need to know where the allergens are found and how to avoid them. For example, if you are allergic to dust, you can reduce symptoms by installing appropriate air filters in your home, having your air ducts professionally cleaned, and dusting regularly.
With the help of a proper allergy test, you can pinpoint your triggers and avoid them more easily. These other tips can also help you avoid dangerous allergic reactions.
When you think of allergies, you may think of that annoying sniffles and sneezing fits that come with each new season, but some of these allergic reactions can actually be life-threatening.
Anaphylaxis, for example, is a serious reaction to exposure to allergens. Most people associate anaphylaxis with food, but any allergen can cause the telltale signs:
suddenly constricted airways
increased heart rate
possible swelling of the tongue and mouth
Allergy symptoms can lead to numerous complications. Your doctor can help you determine the cause of your symptoms and the difference between hypersensitivity and full-blown allergy. Your doctor can also show you how to manage your allergy symptoms so you can avoid the worst complications.
Asthma and allergies
Asthma is a common respiratory disease. It makes breathing difficult and can narrow the airways in the lungs.
Asthma is closely related to allergies. In fact, allergies can make existing asthma worse. They can also trigger asthma in a person who has never had asthma before.
When these conditions occur together, they are called allergy-induced asthma or allergic asthma. Allergic asthma affects about 60 percent of people who have asthma in the United States, according to estimates from the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America.
Many people with allergies can develop asthma. Here's how to tell if this is the case for you.
Allergies vs. the common cold
Runny nose, sneezing and coughing are common symptoms of allergies. They are also common symptoms of a cold and sinusitis. In fact, it can be difficult to distinguish between symptoms that are sometimes the same.
However, additional signs and symptoms can help you distinguish between the three conditions. Allergies, for example, can cause skin rashes and itchy eyes. A cold can cause body aches and even fever. A sinus infection typically causes thick, yellow discharge to come out of the nose.
Allergies can affect the immune system for long periods of time. When the immune system is weakened, the likelihood of contracting viruses that you come in contact with increases. This includes the viruses that cause the common cold.
Allergies, in turn, increase your risk of getting colds more often. You can use this chart to see the differences between the two common conditions.
Hay fever can cause symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, and a stubborn, persistent cough. It is the result of the body's overreaction to allergens. It is not contagious, but it can be very uncomfortable.
Unlike a chronic cough, a cough caused by allergies and hay fever is temporary. The symptoms of this seasonal allergy only occur at certain times of the year when plants are in bloom.
In addition, seasonal allergies can trigger asthma, and asthma can cause coughing. When a person with frequent seasonal allergies is exposed to an allergen, the airways can narrow, causing coughing. Shortness of breath and chest tightness may also occur. Learn why hay fever cough is usually worse at night and what you can do about it.
Allergies and bronchitis
Bronchitis can be caused by viruses or bacteria, but it can also be caused by allergies. The first form, acute bronchitis, usually ends after a few days or weeks. Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, can last for months or even longer. It can also recur frequently.
The most common cause of chronic bronchitis is exposure to common allergens. These allergens include:
Unlike seasonal allergies, many of these allergens remain in environments such as homes or offices. This can make chronic bronchitis more persistent and more likely to recur.
Cough is the only common symptom of chronic and acute bronchitis. Learn about the other symptoms of bronchitis to better understand what you may be suffering from.
Allergies and infants
Skin allergies are more common in younger children today than they were a few decades ago. However, skin allergies decrease as children get older. Respiratory and food allergies become more common as children get older.
Common skin allergies in infants are:
Eczema. This is an inflammatory skin condition that causes red, itchy rashes. These rashes can develop slowly but be persistent.
Allergic contact dermatitis. This type of skin allergy appears quickly, often immediately after your baby comes in contact with the irritant. More severe contact dermatitis can develop into painful blisters and cause cracks in the skin.
Hives. Hives are red bumps or raised areas of skin that form after contact with an allergen. They do not become scaly or crack, but if the hives are itchy, the skin may bleed.
Unusual rashes or hives on your baby's body can alert you. Understanding the differences between the different types of skin allergies in babies can help you find better treatment.
Living with allergies
Allergies are common and do not have life-threatening consequences for most people. People at risk of anaphylaxis can learn how to manage their allergies and what to do in an emergency situation.
Most allergies can be managed with avoidance, medication and lifestyle changes. Working with your doctor or allergist can help prevent major complications and make life more comfortable.
What are environmental allergies?
What are environmental allergies?
Environmental Allergies vs. Other Allergies
Environmental allergies are an immune reaction to something in your environment that is normally harmless. Symptoms of environmental allergies vary from person to person, but can include sneezing, coughing, and fatigue.
Environmental allergies are somewhat different from food allergies because they are not a reaction to something you ingested with food. Instead, environmental allergies are a reaction to triggers you come in contact with in your environment or breathe in during your daily activities.
Read on to learn more about recognizing, treating, and preventing environmental allergies.
Symptoms of environmental allergies can be similar to those of a cold, but they are not caused by the same thing. A virus causes a cold, while allergies are a reaction of the immune system to certain substances in the environment.
Some of the symptoms of environmental allergies are:
shortness of breath
If you have asthma, your symptoms can be severe and even life-threatening.
If you suffer from seasonal allergies, your symptoms may be worse at certain times of the year.
Common environmental allergens
An allergen is anything that causes your immune system to trigger an allergic reaction. Identifying your allergens is an important first step in creating a treatment plan. These five environmental allergens are the most common.
House dust mites
Dust mites are one of the most common indoor allergens. They are microscopic bugs that often live in furniture and mattresses in your home. If you suffer from dust mite allergies, your symptoms may be worse during the spring and summer months. This is because dust mites prefer a warm and humid environment.
Pollen is another common allergen. If you are allergic to pollen, your symptoms such as sneezing, watery eyes, or an itchy throat may worsen when pollen counts increase in the spring and late fall.
Dander from pets
Pet dander and saliva from pets are common allergens. Symptoms of pet allergies may include:
These symptoms may occur when you are near an animal or when you are in an apartment or car where an animal has been. You may even have symptoms if a person near you has dander on their clothing.
Mold spores can cause mild to severe allergic reactions in people allergic to mold. Symptoms of a mold allergy may include the following
Mold thrives in moist environments, so your symptoms may be worse during months of humid weather. Mold is also commonly found in basements and bathrooms.
Cigarette smoke has been shown to irritate and worsen allergy symptoms in many people. Avoid smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke, especially if you have allergies.
How are environmental allergies diagnosed?
If you think you have an environmental allergy, you should see an allergist. He or she will ask you questions about your symptoms and your medical and family history. Using this information and the results of allergy tests, the doctor can identify the specific allergens that may be causing your symptoms.
Allergy tests include:
Skin prick test
Elimination diet if your doctor suspects you have a food allergen
Allergy testing identifies the specific allergens that are causing your symptoms. Once your doctor identifies your allergens, he or she can suggest medications and treatment options.
Once diagnosed, your doctor may recommend medications to treat your allergies. You may be able to get relief with over-the-counter medications such as antihistamines.
Some of these medications may cause drowsiness. Be sure to read the warnings and talk to your doctor about which over-the-counter medications are right for you. Cetirizine (Zyrtec) and loratadine (Claritin) are two common over-the-counter antihistamines that are less likely to cause drowsiness.
Over-the-counter antihistamines may be better suited for seasonal environmental allergies because you do not need to take them long-term.
For severe allergies, your doctor may recommend prescription medications.
You may be a candidate for allergen immunotherapy, also called allergy shots. Allergen immunotherapy involves multiple shots over several years. Allergy shots can improve and reduce symptoms over a long period of time.
Home remedies and tips for prevention
One of the most effective ways to manage your symptoms and create an allergy-free home is to avoid contact with allergens. You may also be able to manage or reduce your symptoms with home remedies.
1. use an air filter
Indoor air filters can improve indoor air quality by trapping allergens and pollutants before they enter your home. A 2018 study found that indoor air quality improved after installing an air purifier with a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter.
People with dust mite allergies also noted an improvement in their symptoms, suggesting that the air filter improved quality of life over the course of the study.
Look for an air purifier with a HEPA filter or equip your home's ventilation system with one. When used properly, HEPA filters trap more allergens than other air filters. You can also purchase a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to further reduce allergens in your home.
2. Protect your bed from allergies.
Allergen-proof pillow and mattress covers can also be used to prevent contact with dust mites. A thorough cleaning routine with weekly washing of bedding and vacuuming can also reduce exposure to allergens.
Be sure to wash your bedding in hot water to remove all allergens. Vacuuming your mattress while washing your bedding can also help reduce dust mites and, if you have a pet, dander.
3. close your windows
Keeping your windows closed can help reduce the number of environmental allergens in your home, especially on days when pollen counts are high.
The only area in your home where you should regularly open the windows is the bathroom, if available. Open the windows or turn on the bathroom ventilation after showering to remove moisture and prevent mold from forming.
4. keep pets out of the bedroom
If you have pets, keep them out of your bedroom. As you sleep in your bedroom for longer periods of time, fewer allergens there can reduce symptoms. This can also improve your sleep.
Bathe your pets regularly to reduce the amount of dander. If your pet goes outside, regular bathing can also reduce the risk of them picking up allergens like pollen.
5. Take a probiotic
Researchers believe there may be a link between gut bacteria and allergies, including seasonal allergies. In one study, participants who took probiotics reported an improvement in symptoms of seasonal allergies compared to those who took a placebo. However, the improvements observed may have been specific to one group of probiotics and not all probiotics.
6. use saline solution
Over-the-counter saline nasal sprays have recently been shown to be effective in treating the symptoms of dust mite allergies. In a 2016 study, participants who used saline nasal spray for 30 days experienced significant improvement in coughing caused by allergies.
7. Add essential oils.
Essential oils can be used to support conventional treatment. Lavender, tea tree, and eucalyptus oils have anti-inflammatory effects and can provide relief from congestion and itchy or puffy eyes.
Full-strength essential oils may cause irritation or adverse reactions, so dilute them with a carrier oil or use a diffuser. Remember that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not control the purity, quality or packaging of essential oils. Use essential oils only as directed and buy only oils from trusted, reputable sources.
8. pay attention to good hygiene
Showering after being outside can help remove allergens from your body. You should also wash your clothes after digging or raking leaves in the garden. This can help prevent mold spores and pollen from entering your home.