More than 50 million people experience allergies. There are various types of allergies which are triggered by the body’s immune system responding to a substance. The immune system is vital for health and survival, protecting the body from infection. Allergic reactions occur when the immune system overreacts to a harmless substance – pollen, food, pet dander etc. Though this response cannot be medically treated, there are useful ways allergies can be effectively managed!
Understanding the Immune System
The immune system comprises a critical and vast network of tissues, cells, and organs that protect the body from infection. This complex network is responsible for preventing bacteria, fungi, germs, and viruses from invading the body and causing disease or infection. This happens by identifying and attacking infectious microorganisms. Key components of the immune system include:
- Lymphoid Organs: includes adenoids (glands in the back of nasal passages), appendix, blood vessels, bone marrow, lymph nodes, lymphatic vessels, spleen, thymus, and tonsils.
- Lymphocytes: the lymphoid organs also release lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. These cells identify, remember, and destroy invading microorganisms.
The immune system works by identifying a particular substance as harmful and activating its response system. Lymphocytes make and release antibodies which are proteins that lock onto the substance, neutralizing it which prevents harm. These antibodies stay in the body so when a person comes into contact with the same substance, it destroys it.
Types of Allergies & Symptoms
There are countless allergens, external substances that a person is allergic to, that people come into contact with in three primary ways:
- Inhale: substances that are inhaled through the mouth and nose are the most prevalent type of allergens. Pollen is the most common allergen that people experience. 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 specifically refer to food allergies. The most common food allergens are: eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish.
- Contact: contact allergens describe allergens that are touched which triggers the allergic response. Common contact allergens include soap, detergent, and poison ivy. These are typically easily identifiable because symptoms are clearly visible (rashes, eczema, bumps, redness etc.).
When a person comes into contact (through inhaling, consuming, or touching) an allergen, the body mistakenly identifies the substance as toxic. This overreaction triggers the release of antibodies which attack the substance and releases chemicals (like histamine) into the bloodstream. This response by the immune system then produces the symptoms associated with allergies:
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion
- Skin irritation, rash, dryness
- Inflammation of tongue
- Nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhea
Symptoms can range from mild to life threatening. The most severe symptom is anaphylaxis which is when the airways become restricted caused by inflammation. This prevents airflow and makes breathing difficult, requiring immediate medical attention.
If you experience symptoms, it is important to be evaluated by a doctor. There are a few ways that allergies are diagnosed: skin tests, blood tests, and elimination diets. Once you are aware of the substance(s) you are allergic to, you are able to eliminate or reduce contact and better manage symptoms.
Symptoms are most commonly managed by different types of over the counter medications:
- Antihistamines: taken orally, antihistamines are used to alleviate the most common symptoms of allergies (Claritin, Zyrtec, Allegra, etc.)
- Decongestants: specifically relieve nasal congestion and can be taken either orally or via nasal spray.
- Nasal Spray: alleviates nasal congestion.
In addition to nonprescription medications, people often incorporate natural remedies including:
- Rinsing nasal pathways to remove mucus and allergens in your nasal passages
- Using a humidifier to drain accumulated mucus
- Herbal tea mixtures to treat irritation in the throat
In addition to managing symptoms, it is important to eliminate or reduce contact with allergens. A few tips include:
- Be aware of the pollen count by checking the forecast and avoid being outdoors when pollen is high
- Keep the air indoors clean by regularly vacuuming and using a purifier
- Always thoroughly read ingredient labels
If allergies are getting in the way of your best life, contact us! We provide comprehensive allergy services and allergy testing. We look forward to helping you manage your allergies.