What are allergies?
Allergies are an overreaction of the immune system that causes the body to defend itself against specific harmless substances, commonly causing symptoms such as sneezing, itchiness, runny nose, and even stomach and skin problems. Common airborne allergens include pollen, dust mites, pet dander, cockroaches, and mold. The most common food allergens are peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, soy, egg, fish, and shellfish.
Certain allergens, such as dust mites, pet dander, and mold, are present throughout the year. For pollen, trees release allergen into the air in spring, grasses release them in the summer, and weeds release them in the fall. In warmer climates, pollen may be present throughout the year.
Are people born having allergies or are they acquired over time?
Some people are born with a higher genetic possibility of developing allergies than others. Whether a person will actually go on to develop symptoms depends on many factors, such as having other family members with allergies and their level of exposure to various allergens and germs.
What are common allergy symptoms?
Allergic inflammation can affect any area of the body, but for airborne allergies, the most common symptoms are sneezing, itchiness in the nose and eyes, runny nose, and nasal congestion. Food allergies typically cause itching and swelling in the mouth and throat, as well as stomach problems such as nausea and vomiting. High exposure to a food that a person is allergic to can produce a very severe, life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis, which needs immediate treatment.
Can allergies be treated?
There are three types of treatment for allergies. The first is avoiding the foods or airborne allergens you are allergic to, but that can be very difficult. Alternatively, over-the-counter-medications, such as oral antihistamines or nasal steroid sprays, can be used for temporary symptom relief but may cause side effects if used for extended periods of time.
The only treatment available that can actually make a person less allergic is called allergy immunotherapy, or desensitization. Allergy immunotherapy, which has been used for over 100 years, involves regular exposure of your immune system to concentrated extracts containing the allergens you react to over a period of three to five years, resulting in improvements that can last two to three decades after the treatment stops. Essentially, this treatment alters the immune system in a very specific way that allows it to ignore the offending allergen rather than reacting to it. The two areas of the body where these extracts can be applied are under the skin and on the membranes lining the mouth.