If you sneeze around a dog or break out in hives when you eat certain foods, you are not alone. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), about 50 million adults and children have hypersensitive nasal passages, and that doesn’t include the estimated 15 million who suffer from food sensitivities.
Whether you are a lifelong allergy sufferer, suspect that your loved one may have an undiagnosed allergy, or you just want to know more about allergies, we will tell you everything you need to know so you can gain a better understanding of the basics of allergies.
What Is An Allergy?
You probably know people who have allergic reactions to cat dander, dust, pollen, mold, or even specific laundry detergents. Want to know an allergy meaning, plain and simple? In short, it’s your immune system’s reaction to a foreign substance, which is also known as an allergen. You might also see an allergy definition as a “hypersensitivity.”
A properly functioning immune system is in charge of keeping your body healthy and creates antibodies. If you are hypersensitive to something, such as tree pollen or a sting from a bee, your immune system is responding to what some health experts describe as a “false alarm.”
The antibodies identify the allergen as a threat, and they remain “on guard” until they reencounter the threat. If the antibodies come in contact with the same foreign substance again, it releases a chemical, called histamine, into your body, which causes a variety of allergy symptoms, such as inflammation.
In efforts to rid the body of the “threatening” substance, histamine causes inflammation in various parts of the body from the surface of one’s skin to the digestive system. Hypersensitivity reactions can vary from very minor to fatal, depending on a person’s immune system.
When Do You Develop Allergies?
Many adults assume that they are immune from allergies, especially if they never developed a hypersensitivity as a child. Food allergies, for instance, are more likely to show up during the early years of childhood, but an allergy of any kind can occur in anyone of any age group.
It’s not uncommon for adults to experience sudden adult-onset seasonal allergies or have an adverse reaction to penicillin for the first time, after taking it for years. According to the Mayo Health Clinic, you may have a higher risk of developing hypersensitivity if you have a family history or suffer from asthma.
Should you avoid enjoying the great outdoors, petting a cat, or eating new foods out of fear that your immune system will see each one as a threat? Of course not, but like other common health issues, it’s important to know some of the warning signs.
Signs That You May Have An Allergy
In a perfect world, we would all know whether or not we are allergic to anything before struggling with the symptoms. As we mentioned earlier, allergic reactions can vary from minor skin irritation to life-threatening symptoms.
It’s important and helpful to learn how to identify common symptoms associated with hypersensitivity. While learning the symptoms, it’s also important to remember that while one might think a symptom is an allergic reaction, the symptom may be related to another health issue.
Since allergic reactions could be something else (or vice versa), it’s always a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor. While there are many types of allergies, we will give you some examples of some of the most common types and a few of the most frequent symptoms that occur. Keep in mind that everyone’s body may respond to an allergen differently.
Hay Fever (Allergic Rhinitis)
People who have hay fever are typically allergic to a variety of indoor and outdoor allergens such as pollen, dust mites, or pet dander. The causes of hay fever may be difficult to pinpoint since there are usually many factors to consider.
Hay fever symptoms might include a runny nose with nasal congestion, sneezing, and coughing. Watery and itchy eyes, as well as an itchy nose and throat, are also common. Post-nasal drip and fatigue can indicate hay fever, too.
Although all of these symptoms may trick someone into thinking that he or she has a cold or virus, the lack of a fever is typically a tell-tale sign.
It’s hard to imagine that there’s always the chance that you could become allergic to your favorite food, but as we mentioned earlier, most food allergies are discovered during childhood. You may be allergic to particular food item if you experience tingling in your mouth or swelling of your lips, tongue, face, or throat.
Some people with food sensitivities experience a minor case of hives (itchy skin rash) or anaphylaxis, which is the most severe symptom and can be fatal if not treated properly or quickly.
Hypersensitivity To Medications
Medications and drugs, such as aspirin and antibiotics, can cause an unexpected allergic reaction in some people. The symptoms can range from hives and facial swelling to wheezing and anaphylaxis.
Other Types of Allergies
Many people find out they are allergic to insect bites, such as bees, or that they have a skin allergy like eczema. Like the types we mentioned above, the symptoms may vary depending on the level of hypersensitivity.
Treating Your Allergies From Home
As soon as people suspect they have an allergy to something, they usually head to the drug store and try an OTC remedy like allergy medications or an anti-itch cream. Choosing OTC medications is often effective for minor allergies or when managing hay fever symptoms.
If you choose to try some drugstore remedies, you should also plan on calling your doctor if you experience little to no relief or if your symptoms worsen. If you experience a severe reaction, such as trouble breathing or extreme swelling, call for medical help right away.
Whether you’re allergic to pet dander or shellfish, your hypersensitivity cannot be cured, but you can take proper steps to manage your symptoms and avoid future reactions.
Diagnosing An Allergy
If your hypersensitivity is extreme or doesn’t clear up or lessen with OTC medication, you may benefit from getting tested for allergies. There are three ways to test for hypersensitivity, and it all depends on the type of reaction.
Sensitivity to foods is often pinpointed through an elimination test, which means you stop eating the food in question. Skin and blood tests will often determine your hypersensitivity to other things like pet dander or grass.
If you get a skin test, your doctor will most likely perform a scratch test first. During this type of test, a liquid allergen comes in contact with your skin and the skin is lightly punctured, so the allergen gets better contact with the skin.
The small area of skin is monitored for symptoms; if you experience symptoms, you are likely allergic. If your test is inconclusive, your doctor may order a patch test. Rather the puncturing the skin, a patch test requires wearing an allergen patch on the skin for 48, 72, and 96 hours; monitoring occurs during these times.
If your doctor suspects that you may have a severe reaction during the skin test, he or she may order a blood test instead. During this process, your blood is drawn, and it is tested in a lab for the presence of any antibodies. Properly identifying antibodies can help determine specific hypersensitivities.
Living With Allergies and Managing Your Symptoms
An official allergy diagnosis can be a relief but also overwhelming. In many cases, people find out that they are allergic to more than one thing, but the bright side is knowing the exact causes to their itching, sneezing, and hives.
Depending on your hypersensitivity, your doctor may prescribe a medication or may even recommend allergy shots, which can help reduce your sensitivity to any triggers that cause a reaction. A treatment of shots typically includes weekly injections with a dosage increase for up to six months and then monthly injections for up to five years.
In efforts to prevent another reaction, you should avoid any known triggers. This may mean reading food labels more carefully or staying indoors when the pollen count is high. Tracking your activities and symptoms on a daily basis can be helpful, particularly during the early stages of your diagnosis.
If you have a severe hypersensitivity, you may want to consider wearing a medical alert bracelet or necklace. This can be a vital piece of information if you ever have a severe reaction and cannot communicate.
An allergy diagnosis can be life-changing but thanks to modern preventative measures, there are ways to manage your symptoms so that you can enjoy everyday activities and still experience new and exciting things.