What Is Allergy?
An allergy is an autoimmune response called a hypersensitivity reaction. This means that the body's immune system is acting in a way that is detrimental or has consequences that that affects the body- The body's immune system "overreacts" to a particular trigger, and thus your immune system is called "hypersensitive."
The severity of this overreaction of the immune system differs from person to person. Some people may have a mild reaction (sometimes only referred to as a sensitivity and not an allergy), while others may have severe anaphylactic reactions that can be life-threatening.
Eczema, food allergies, allergic rhinitis, medication allergies and anaphylactic reactions can all be grouped under the term "allergy." No specific causes of allergies have been found although genetics play the biggest role in predisposing to allergies.
People who suffer from allergies have different triggers that cause an allergic reaction. The first time someone is exposed to a trigger, the body's immune system forms antibodies against the particular allergen. This is called sensitization.
When the immune system encounters the allergic trigger for the second time, the antibodies will react to the trigger and cause an allergic response. Sometimes the allergic response can worsen with every exposure, for example, seen in patients with bee-sting allergies. The first bee sting might not be severe, but the third or fourth reaction could be life-threatening. Most of the time, the allergic response stays the same in severity.
Often people who suffer from allergies had what we call an atopic triad in childhood- this triad of allergies include atopic dermatitis (eczema), food allergies and asthma.
What Are The Symptoms Of Allergy?
The symptoms of allergies are because of a release of a substance called histamines from the immune system.
The symptoms of allergies depend on the type of allergy:
Acute anaphylaxis may be potentially life-threatening. This may present with a red skin rash, swelling of the airways, shortness of breath, low blood pressure, cardiovascular collapse and will lead to death if not treated.
A red itchy skin rash (wheal and flare reaction) is common in food allergies, chemical allergies (e.g. latex allergy), medication allergies and allergic reactions to insect bites.
Food allergies may present with a skin rash, itchy or swollen airways or gastrointestinal upsets.
Allergic rhinitis presents with a runny nose, teary eyes, sneezing and nasal congestion. Allergic rhinitis is one of the medical conditions that have the worst impact on quality of life.
Eczema usually presents in childhood with a dry, itchy rash, usually affecting the skin over joint surfaces.
What Are The Causes Of Allergy?
Genetics is the biggest link to allergies.
There has recently been much discussion about the increasing prevalence of allergies seen in the developed world. This increase is thought to be attributed to a decreased exposure to allergens and toxins in childhood, because of "over-hygienic" parenting. This is referred to in the media is the "hygiene hypothesis."
Children who are exposed to more bacteria and allergens in childhood have shown to have lower incidences of allergies.
Triggers for allergies are numerous. The common triggers are:
- House dust mites and dust
- Pollen and grass
- Animal dander
- Nuts- especially peanuts
- Milk and soy
- Shellfish and iodine-containing foods
- Medications such as penicillin, sulphonamide
- Chemicals such as latex
- Insect toxins such as bee-stings
What Are The Things One Should Do To Manage Allergy?
- Screen yourself for your particular allergen triggers through skin prick or blood tests.
- Trigger avoidance is the biggest component of allergy treatment.
- If you suffer from severe allergic reactions, always carry your adrenaline pen with you.
- It would be wise to keep your chronic medications on you, in the case of an acute allergic episode.
- Wear a medical alert bracelet if you have any life-threatening allergies.
What Are The Things One Should Avoid To Manage Allergy?
- Don't leave allergies untreated as they have a significant impact on quality of life.
- Don't smoke. Smoking increases inflammation in the body and can worsen allergic reactions; this is especially true if you suffer from airway allergies such as allergic rhinitis or asthma.
What Are The Best Foods For Allergy?
- Green teas contain natural antihistamines, so are good to use in allergies.
- Foods high in vitamin C have shown to reduce the frequency of allergies. These include watermelon, apples, oranges, grapes, and strawberries.
- Food that contains Omega 3 such as salmon, mackerel, almonds, walnuts, avocados, and flaxseeds.
- Vary your diet.
What Are The Worst Foods For Allergy?
- If you are allergic to any food substance, avoidance of that particular food is prudent.
- Spicy foods induce a histaminic response. It may worsen your allergy in some cases. Use with discretion.
- Raw fruits and vegetables may sometimes aggravate allergies because of pesticides and pollen. Cooking your vegetables can lower the allergic response related to this.
What Are The Medicines For Allergy?
Medications used for allergy treatment are mainly antihistamines and corticosteroids.
Corticosteroids suppress the body's immune response. Steroids can be taken orally in the short-term management of allergies. Prednisone is most often used. Steroid creams are often used in allergic rashes and are the mainstay of treatment in eczema.
Antihistamines prevent the histaminic response in allergies. They are usually foundational in most allergic conditions. People who suffer from chronic allergies can use a long-acting antihistamine daily such as cetirizine. For occasional allergies, antihistamines can be used as needed.
Acute anaphylaxis may be treated with intravenous corticosteroids (Solu-Cortef), intramuscular antihistamines such as promethazine and intravenous adrenaline if very severe. Symptomatic support may be needed, depending on the system involved, e.g., Intubation and ventilation in case of severe airway swelling.
If you suffer from severe allergic reactions, your doctor may prescribe an adrenaline or anti-histamine (promethazine) injectable pen to carry with you for use in an emergency.
Injections for allergies, known as anti-IgE treatment are currently being used in cases of severe asthma, and idiopathic urticaria (hives). The treatments work by blocking IgE, an antibody that is part of the immune system and thereby lowers the allergic reaction.
What Are The Tips To Manage Allergy?
Probiotics are useful in food sensitivities to restore intestinal flora balance. An elimination diet may lower inflammation in the body and help reduce allergies.