What Are Allergies?
Allergies are typically experienced when the body’s immune system treats normal substances found in the environment as if they were dangerous intruders, resulting in the production of histamines. While many people experience only mild symptoms when dealing with allergies, severe symptoms—such as anaphylactic shock—can occur and be life-threatening under certain circumstances.
What Causes Allergies to Develop?
The emergence of an allergy begins with the immune system, which produces antibodies in response to particular allergens. Once produced, these antibodies remain vigilant and release immune system chemicals called “histamines.” Histamines are responsible for creating the various symptoms of allergies, including those both mild and severe.
Signs and Symptoms of Allergies
Despite the fact that allergies can result from a number of different factors and environmental elements, the signs and symptoms tend to be consistent across a wide variety of causes.
These signs and symptoms can include the following:
- Skin redness, swelling, itching, scaling or development of hives
- Chest tightness, coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath
- Change in blood pressure or heart rate
- Runny nose
- Itchy or watery eyes
- Nasal congestion or swelling of sinuses
- Stomach pain and/or nausea
- Throat swelling
Are There Additional Risk Factors for Allergies?
Yes. Those who have a family history of allergies are more likely to experience issues themselves. Children are especially susceptible to developing allergies, as are those who suffer from asthma or similar chronic respiratory conditions. Allergies may be especially severe for the immunocompromised.
Can Allergies Be Dangerous?
In certain cases, allergies can result in complications—some of which can be life-threatening. These include:
- Asthma—often triggered by exposure to particular allergens.
- Sinus or ear infection
- Anaphylaxis—a severe allergic reaction that can result in death if not treated quickly.
Anaphylaxis is a serious medical emergency. Medical attention should be sought immediately if you or a family member experience any of the following symptoms:
- Pale or flushed skin
- Constricted airway
- Swollen tongue
- Weak pulse
How Can Allergies Be Treated?
Allergies are treated based upon your medical history, as well as the severity of symptoms and known test results. Depending upon the circumstances, there may be a number of different treatment options that may be prescribed to you, including:
- Nasal sprays, such as corticosteroids
- Mast cell stabilizers (an alternative method of histamine blocking)
- Creams or ointments (often containing corticosteroids)
- Oral corticosteroids (for treating severe allergic reactions)
Some allergies—especially certain food allergies—can be life-threatening for young children and should be evaluated and closely monitored by a physician. Exposure to allergens at home and school is common, often resulting from contact with pets, dust, pollen, or other environmental factors.
As allergies are a chronic condition, early identification of trigger allergens (often through medical testing) is crucial to developing an effective treatment plan.