What is an Allergy – A Brief Introduction
What is an Allergy – A Brief Introduction
What exactly is an allergy? An allergy is the reaction of the body’s immune system to otherwise harmless substances, like food, pollens, and mold. In non-allergic people these substances (usually allergens) usually pose no threat, but in allergic people their immune system sees them as a potential threat and produces an inappropriate reaction. This can result in inflammation of the air passages, redness of the skin or eyes, nasal congestion, headaches, sneezing, itchy eyes, hives, swelling and itching. Some people are more susceptible than others, but there is no explanation as yet why this occurs. Allergies may affect both sexes and all ages, and they can be inherited.
Allergens are presented to the immune system through the skin’s pores, airways, or respiratory systems. When an allergic reaction occurs the body creates antibodies to fight the allergen. The antibodies in turn produce histamines which cause the airways to swell and make it difficult for the allergen to be inhaled. An allergic reaction can also be a local reaction, meaning that it affects a small part of the body, like the nose, or be an allergic reaction which takes place throughout the body. Allergens are usually inhaled, ingested or come into contact with the skin via the mouth, nose or eyes.
Some people are more at risk than others when it comes to an allergy reaction. If you are prone to allergies, the chances are that you will get itchy and watery eyes and/or a runny nose. This is true even if you aren’t suffering from an allergy attack. Other common allergy symptoms include coughing, wheezing, a tight chest, scratchy throat, hives, watery eyes, rashes, swelling, itching, vomiting, diarrhea and a rapid heartbeat. Some people experience symptoms much like these symptoms when they are exposed to a particular allergen, but they are not allergy sufferers.
Allergies can result in serious medical conditions if left untreated. People who suffer from asthma can suffer from severe attacks that can lead to difficulty breathing and even death. It has been known to take as many as 18 weeks before symptoms are visible to the person who is allergic to the substance causing the reaction. It is important to treat allergies quickly so that they are not able to worsen or become life-threatening.
There are different types of treatments for allergic reactions, and most doctors will recommend immunotherapy. This is a course of treatment that involves administering immunotherapy shots to the person who has been diagnosed with allergies. Doctors choose this course of treatment because it gives the patient control over the treatment and allows them to decide when they are not allergic to certain substances. In some cases, the doctor will administer a mild allergy shot immediately prior to starting immunotherapy.
Immune system function normally begins with formation of antibodies. Antibodies are protective compounds that attach to foreign materials such as bacteria, viruses or pollen and produce small white blood cells to fight the substance. When the immune system finds the substance to be dangerous, the white blood cells go on a attack and begin to destroy it. This explains the swelling, itching, throat irritation and rapid heartbeat.
Allergic reactions can occur in various forms. For instance, some people may only have a reaction to one type of food. This type of allergy can be controlled by avoiding the allergen. Other allergies, however, involve the immune system attacking something that it does not recognize. This leads to more serious problems and is why medication is often prescribed. Medication used to control allergies includes the use of antihistamines, corticosteroids and sometimes even steroids.
Some allergies, however, are not easily controlled. One example is hay fever. Hay fever is caused by an allergic reaction to pollen from grass and trees. The substance causing the reaction is called histamine and is part of the immune system. When the immune system attacks this harmless substance, it causes a runny nose, itching and watery eyes. People who suffer from this allergy must avoid exposure to the allergen if they want to stay symptom free.