You may be someone or know someone who has allergies. More than 50 million people experience allergies every year! An allergy involves your body’s immune system overreacting to a foreign substance, referred to as an allergen. There are various ways you can come into contact with an allergen. Allergens can be ingested, inhaled, touched, or injected into the body.
The immune system identifies the substance as harmful which triggers its response system. The body releases antibodies to neutralize the perceived threat. These antibodies then detect the allergen every time you come into contact with it, releasing chemicals (like histamine) into the bloodstream. This process produces the symptoms associated with allergies. Allergies are not curable but can be effectively managed. The first step in preventing symptoms is establishing what you are allergic to which can be tested in a variety of ways!
Types & Symptoms
People with allergies are likely to have more than one type. People most often come into contact with allergens in three ways:
- Inhale: allergens that are breathed in through the mouth and nose are the most prevalent type of allergies. Specifically, pollen is the most common inhaled substance that people are allergic to. Other sources of inhaled allergens include pet dander, mold, and fungi. This type of allergy is commonly referred to as hay fever.
- Ingest: ingested allergens are specifically about food allergies. Children are more likely to have food allergies than adults. The most common food allergens are: eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish.
- Touch: Coming into physical contact with the allergen can cause the allergic reaction. Common contact allergens include soap, detergent, and poison ivy. These are typically easily identifiable because symptoms are clearly visible (rashes, eczema, bumps, redness etc.).
Allergic reactions involve common symptoms that can be mild to severe. Symptoms include the following:
– Itchy, watery eyes
– Runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion
– Skin irritation, rash, dryness
– Inflammation of tongue
– Nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhea
The most severe symptom is known as anaphylaxis which is life threatening. Anaphylaxis involves the airways becoming narrower because of swelling, restricted airflow and breathing difficulty. This is a medical emergency and needs to be treated immediately.
There are a few ways that allergies are diagnosed. There are three types of tests that could be used to identify allergens:
- Skin Test: this type of test can be conducted in a few ways. The first type of skin test involves injecting the potential allergen in the surface of the skin and seeing if there is a reaction. A reaction should occur rapidly and would produce swelling and/or itchiness in the localized area. Another type of skin test uses adhesive patches that contain the potential allergen and are placed on the skin. These patches can remain on the skin for a few days and are regularly observed for any allergy symptoms.
- Blood Test: this option is relatively simple and involves withdrawing blood and evaluating it for antibodies. The blood sample is then assessed in a lab, so results can take around one week.
- Dietary Testing: usually, if skin and blood tests produce results that are inconclusive, another option involves diet. There are different ways this can carried out including:
– elimination diet: requires completely eliminating potential trigger foods from your diet. Then slowly introducing them back and observing any symptoms that are caused.
– ingesting small amounts of potential trigger foods under a doctor’s supervision.
Allergy tests establish specific allergens that are the source of allergic reactions. Managing your contact with the allergen(s) is entirely up to you.
Tips for Managing Allergies
There are numerous ways you can effectively manage your allergies. You should start by finding the best combination of over the counter medications and/or natural remedies that treat any symptoms you experience. You should always have access to this treatment and apply it proactively. Other tips include:
– remain aware of the pollen count which you can do by checking the forecast. Avoid being outdoors when it is high, close doors and windows etc.
– keep the air indoors clean by regularly vacuuming and using a purifier
– always read ingredient labels and research any ingredients you are confused about.