Allergies: What, why, when and how?

Introduction

Almost all of us experience and encounter some particular type of allergy at least at some part of our lives.

For example, someone may have an eye-itching problem while others may experience runny-nose problem. Similarly, many people keep complaining about being allergic to dust. However, most of us are not aware of the physiological mechanism behind our allergies.

Statistics

Statistics vary for different types of allergies from one country to another. For instance, in United States alone, an estimated 150 people die annually because of Anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction). Similarly, in UK, it caused 48 deaths between 1999 and 2006. According to Allergy-UK, one out of every four people suffers from allergy at some point in his / her life. In short, the fact is that allergies are too common and can affect anyone else at any stage in life.

Statistics, however, are indicative that children and youth are more vulnerable to allergies.

What is allergy?

Definition: In simple words, allergy refers to abnormal reaction or response of our body to some harmless (or at times, harmful) substance such as dust and pollen. Substance that causes allergic reaction is called as ‘allergen’ while the reaction or process itself is called as ‘allergy’. Some food items also bring about allergic reactions in some people as some people are hypersensitive to certain foods. Depending on what causes allergic reactions, we have different types of allergies.

What are the types of allergies?

Allergies are broadly classified into two main types:

1. Seasonal Allergies: As their name suggests, these kinds of allergy occur at specific times or during a specific season (or due to weather) during the year. For instance, many people get affected by hay fever during some particular season of the year. Moreover, tree pollen, grass pollen and fungi can be regarded as the main allergens that may contribute to the cause of seasonal allergies.

2. Perennial Allergies: Unlike seasonal allergies, perennial allergies can occur anytime during any season of the year. Allergens that cause perennial allergies can be many such as house dust, cockroaches and insect stings. This is the reason why most of the women wear masks while they clean their homes so as to make sure that they don’t become allergic to the dust particle. Similarly, for some people cigarette smoke acts as an allergen as they are hypersensitive to it and it may induce an allergic response in some people even if the smoker is at a considerable distance from them. Finally, some people also develop perennial allergies from their pets chiefly because of their hair.

3. Other Types (Miscellaneous Allergies): Allergies can be further classified into different types depending on the nature or type of allergens. For example, food allergy refers to the allergy being caused due to some food item.

Similarly, some people develop drug allergies after taking some medications. Likewise, there are other types of allergy that depend on the nature of allergy. For example, if someone’s skin is affected by allergic reactions, this may be deemed as a type called “skin allergy”. Although allergies may alter the mood of the affected person but they are believed to be potentially harmless. However, there is one type of allergic reaction that is known to have adverse effects and acts as a potential threat for humans. This type of allergy is called as ‘Anaphylaxis’. It is a life-threatening allergic reaction that can affect breathing and blood circulation of the person affected, even leading to death in severe cases.

How are allergies identified?

Symptoms for allergies are very obvious; most common being sneezing. Other symptoms could be:

Other common signs and symptoms may include:

  • Coughing
  • Skin rash
  • Itching
  • Asthma (in severe cases)
  • Watering of eyes
  • Swelling of body parts (usually in Anaphylaxis)

How are allergies diagnosed (confirmed)?

While most allergies can be identified on the basis of a clinical history and physical examination of the patient, your doctor may recommend a particular skin or blood test to find out if the blood levels of “IgE” antibodies are abnormally high in your blood.

How are allergies treated?

The treatment or therapy of allergy can be further subdivided into the following categories:

Medical / clinical treatment: Prescribed or recommended by a doctor, this type of treatment consists of a course of some prescription or OTC (over the counter) medicines, generally known as “Anti-Histamines” (anti-allergic drugs).

Natural or preventive therapy: It is believed that the best way of treating allergy is to prevent it in the first place. Accordingly, allergy can be avoided or prevented by simple knowing or identifying the substance / factor (allergen) you are allergic to.

Conclusion

All in all, allergy or hypersensitivity is one of the commonest conditions or disorders that virtually affects every single person. Fortunately, it can be easily identified and diagnosed. While various treatments are available, the best course of action is to prevent it by simply avoiding the factor responsible for a specific allergy.

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