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What is an Allergy?

by Sonia Chartier, on 27 May 2014, Allergies
what is an allergy

An allergy occurs when your immune system recognizes an environmental or food molecule (allergen) as a dangerous intruder to get rid of.  The dreaded symptoms are just the tools your body has to get rid of the intruder.

The allergy mechanism  is quite complex and involves the immune system and a series of biochemical reactions.  It ends up with histamine and other mediators being released in the bloodstream and causing symptoms. Allergens may result from our environment, food, medication, or personal care products like skin creams or suntan lotions.

The body’s response to an allergen results in “allergy symptoms” ranging from mild to severe, and sometimes deadly.   If you are experiencing an allergic reaction you may feel tired, hazy, dizzy, or exhibit cold or flu-like symptoms.

Exposure to environmental allergens like dust, pollen, animal hair and dander may cause more external symptoms like sneezing, stuffy nose, and build up of mucus in the respiratory passages and eventually in other systems like the digestive tract.

Since not all allergic reactions are experienced right away it can be difficult to isolate specifically what you’re reacting to.   In some cases a reaction can take up to 72 hours.   Allergies can be present at birth, genetic, or developed later in life, often called “adult-onset”.

Is it a cold or an allergy?

There are many types of allergies and a wide variety of symptoms.  Fairly often symptoms can resemble that of the common cold.  If you do not know that you were exposed to an allergen, it can be quite easy to confuse the two.  Sometimes you may think you have been dragging a  cold for weeks when you are actually suffering from allergic rhinitis.

Types of allergies

There are 4 main types of allergies:  environmental, food, medication, skin (or contact).

  1. Environmental allergies  include pollens, animal hair, dust, molds, insect bites, etc. What we call hay fever is usually allergic rhinitis caused by pollens.  Some of us are so affected by hay fever that summer is only bearable indoors, with the windows closed and the AC on. A particular pollen is typically in the environment at a specific time of year. Depending which pollen(s) you are reacting to, your allergies can last all through spring and summer or last just a couple of weeks per year.

 Environment allergy symptoms can include one or a combination of the following: itchiness, runny nose, congestion, eczema, hives, asthma attack (increased  production of mucus in the lungs, shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing) and allergic rhinitis (feels just like a cold).

 Symptoms can also show up in the eyes, causing allergic conjunctivitis.  That is when the protective layer of the white part of the eye becomes inflamed.  Your eyes become red, itchy and watery.  It is often combined with allergic rhinitis. This is typically seen in allergies to pollen or cats.

 2.  Food allergies and food intolerances are very common; nearly everyone will be affected at some point.  However,  food allergy and intolerance are often confused:  an allergy is an abnormal reaction from the immune system.  Food intolerance is the inability to digest that food properly and unrelated to your immune system.  For example, if dairy products make you sick because you are lactose intolerant, it is not an allergy.  Since the symptoms can be similar, the two are often confused.

 Food allergy symptoms can range from skin rashes, to diarrhea, vomiting, and deadly anaphylactic shock.  In North America, the most prevalent cause of anaphylaxis in children is the ingestion or the exposure to peanuts, nuts, wheat, shellfish, milk and eggs.  Most children who suffer from those severe allergies can thankfully tolerate those foods by the time they are 16.

 3. Medication allergies are not to be confused with adverse side effects. It is an allergic reaction when the immune system perceives the medication as an intruder and creates a response against it.  The most common is penicillin allergy.  Vaccines, sulfa drugs, barbiturates and anticonvulsants are also common allergens.

 The release of histamine can cause symptoms such as hives or rashes, congestion, digestive problems or more severe respiratory constriction and anaphylaxis.  When you are already feeling sick and needing medication, the last thing you want is dealing with an allergic reaction; therefore, if you suffer from a drug allergy, it’s best to wear a medic alert bracelet.

 4. Contact allergies are triggered from a contact with the skin to an allergen such as latex, nickel or poison ivy.  The skin reacts locally to contact with a foreign substance and you end up with a burning, itchy rash.  Symptoms can show up as late as a day or two after contact.  It can be difficult to tell apart a contact allergy to a contact dermatitis (non allergic reaction).  Symptoms are quite similar but the cause is different.  Contact dermatitis is usually more painful than itchy and means you have been in contact with a toxic substance.

 Treatments for allergies

The most common medication for allergies is anti-histamine.  It works by blocking the production of histamine, which is produced by our body to defend itself against “the intruder”.  Histamine is one of the main causes of the much-dreaded symptoms.

Homeopathy offers natural remedies for allergies.  They can be taken alongside medication, during pregnancy and by young children.

Allergy Relief from A.Vogel targets a wide spectrum of symptoms typical of seasonal allergies.  Since it also prevents the release of histamine, it is a good idea to start taking it a couple of weeks before your seasonal allergy symptoms usually appear.

If your nose is already dripping, then it’s too late for prevention.  Allergy Relief nasal spray  will quickly help keep away the tissue box.  Stinging Nettletincture is also an interesting choice because it helps regulate histamine levels. It helps with allergic rhinitis and it is especially effective for hives.

For more tips on how to deal with allergies, click here.

 

 

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