An allergy refers to an immune reaction that takes places when the body reacts to certain foreign substances. The human immune system naturally produces antibodies. These substances protect the body from invasive disease-causing agents. In typical allergic reactions, antibodies mistakenly identify particular substances (allergens) as invasive in nature. Consequently, they attack them, leading to reactions that manifest physically. Such reactions, ranging from mild to acute; vary from person to person. According to CDC estimates, about one out of every five Americans suffers from some form of allergy.
Symptoms and Types
Typical allergy symptoms differ from patient to patient. However, most reactions are centered on the nasal passages, sinuses, airways, skin, and the digestive system. These symptoms range from mild to acute, with the worst case scenario being anaphylaxis, where the entire body experiences severe shock.
Common allergies include:
- Hay Fever
- Bee stings
- Mold allergy
- Eye Allergies (allergic conjunctivitis)
- Food allergies
- Medicine/ Chemical-induced allergies
- Skin allergies (Atopic dermatitis)
Common symptoms that accompany such allergic reactions include:
- Running nostrils
- Swollen eyes
- Flaking or peeling of the skin
- Tingling sensation in the mouth
- Swelling of the tongue, lips, throat or face
- Hives all over the body
- Wheezing and shortness of breath
Diagnosis and Tests
A general practitioner will ask various questions regarding the symptoms, so as to diagnose the cause of the allergy, and determine requisite treatment. Patients also undergo a physical check up and may be required to keep a detailed log of symptoms and their triggering agents.
Allergy specialists mainly use two types of tests to identify potential allergens. The prick test entails a series of tiny punctures on the patient‚Äôs skin. Potential allergens are introduced into the pricked areas, and the results tallied for interpretation. Blood testing on the other hand entails lab exposure of blood samples to various common allergens. Multiple agents can be identified through blood testing, which measures the amount of antibodies present in the sample after allergen exposure.
Treatment and Care
The most effective panacea to allergies is to completely avoid contact with the triggering agents. In case of contact, over-the-counter medications can help to relieve symptoms. These include nasal sprays and eye drops. Allergy medications include corticosteroids, antihistamines, decongestants, leukotriene modifiers, and cromolyn sodium.
Individuals who suffer from persistent, intense allergic attacks are usually given immunotherapy to eradicate the condition. This involves gradual administration of allergy shots during certain durations. Patients who experience acute allergic reactions such as anaphylactic shock must always carry epinephrine shots, to diminish intense allergic reactions before reaching the hospital.