Allergies represent disorders related to immunology that are sometimes linked to dramatic effects such as morbidity or afflictions. Allergies are an abnormal response of the human body’s immune system. People who encountered allergies are facing an immune system that reacts to harmless substances in the environment in a different manner that it is supposed to. These substances can be of various origins (e.g. pollen, mold, animal hair etc.) and they are called allergens. Developing an allergy is a common problem which usually affects two out of ten people, whether they have been diagnosed or not.


Allergies Overview & Facts

The history of allergies started around the year 1900 when Clemens von Pirquet made some researches regarding antibodies. He reached the following conclusion: some antibodies that are meant to defend a human’s body from factors that could harm it may also be the cause of developing a disease. He called this situation an allergy and started following the reactions of the immune system to different kinds of constituents. Some recent studies showed that people both in Europe and the USA suffer from one or several allergies. Moreover, there is a possibility that a person sensitizes to one or more allergens, mentioned above. Considering the way they are entering the body, allergens can be classified into inhaled allergens (pollen, house dust, molds, bristles, epidermis etc.), food allergens (egg white, milk, strawberries etc.) insect allergens (venom) and drug/chemical allergens. A worrying fact about allergies is that, in the past few years, there is an increased number of people suffering from this affection in locations that were formerly considered below the average.

In detail, there are several factors that could influence the development of allergies in a person. The etiologic basis of allergy diseases points out the fact that a multitude of genetic and environmental factors are responsible for their appearance. When a person is exposed to a certain allergen and inhales, swallows or touches it, a series of events happening in the body and – more specifically, in the immune system – trigger an allergic reaction. The body begins to produce a specific antibody (IgE) in large quantities in order to properly fight the allergen. The antibodies are attached to a blood cell and the entire structure eventually formed is called a mastocytoma. Mast cells are usually found at the level of the nasal airways and the gastrointestinal tract, which are areas permanently exposed to allergens. Each allergen will attach to an antibody (previously combined with blood cells) and the resulted formation triggers a reaction which releases a series of chemicals in the body. One of these chemicals is histamine, the substance responsible for allergy symptoms.


Allergies Overview & Facts


Allergies Symptoms & Diagnosis

  1. Allergies Symptoms

The most common symptoms of allergy diseases occurred due to inhalation or contact with an allergen often include:

  • Itchy eyes/nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Rhinorrhoea (meaning runny nose)
  • Rashes
  • Fatigue
  • A general bad mood

When it comes to allergies caused by certain ingredients that food contains, the symptoms may differ. Experiencing vomiting, diarrhea or severe stomach pain is common when an allergy disease is caused by ingesting the allergen. The second case would be insect bites, where the symptoms include severe swelling in the area, severe pain etc. The severity of the symptoms related to an allergic reaction varies as follows:

  • Symptoms of mild allergies can be hardly observable and can give you a mere feeling of discomfort
  • Symptoms of moderate allergies can create a state of physical pain, combined with a general bad mood, often associated to a simple flu or a common cold
  • Symptoms of severe allergy can arrest you to bed, being unable to keep going with your normal, day-by-day activities

It should be known that most symptoms of an allergic disease can disappear immediately after interrupting the exposure to the responsible allergen. However, there are serious cases of allergic reactions and the most severe complication is called anaphylaxis. In case of anaphylaxis, allergenic agents trigger reacting in the entire organism, affecting basic functions, including:

  • Noticing an accentuated flushing of the skin
  • Hives on different parts of the body
  • Convalescent state
  • Throat/mouth swelling
  • Losing the ability of swallowing or speaking intelligibly
  • Increased/unusual heart rate
  • Developing asthma
  • Pain in the abdominal area, combined with nausea or even vomiting
  • General state of weakness
  • Unconsciousness

It is highly important to specify that anaphylaxis can be dangerous for the life of a patient, meaning that the worst case ends up with death. When noticing any of the aforementioned symptoms, one should immediately contact a doctor for further investigations. Protracted anaphylaxis can last for more than three days and it is required to be assisted by specialists in a hospital for treatment.

  1. Allergies Diagnosis

The allergy disease diagnostic can be set either by elimination, skin testing or blood testing. The doctor will ask the patient to follow an elimination diet in case of food allergies. Removing the ingestion of certain ingredients that may act like allergens for a person’s immune system is the first step towards a precise diagnostic. The skin test implies using several needles populated with the most common allergens. Each reaction of the patient’s skin will be carefully analysed and documented for obtaining a diagnostic. The blood test works as an antibody detector.

Determining the specific IgE antibodies can be done for both individual allergens and a mixture of different allergens. Trying a multitude of tests for individual allergens can be unsuccessful, especially in the absence of clear clinical arguments. Therefore, it is recommended to perform a multi-allergen test which will demonstrate the presence of antibodies in case of various allergen mixtures. See below the most common categories of people who need screening tests:

  • Children aged 0 to 4 – recommended for testing common food and inhalants allergens
  • Children and teens aged 4 to 18 – recommended for testing the presence of specific IgE antibodies for the most common inhalants in the environment
  • Adults – recommended for testing a combination of food and inhalant allergens


Allergies Symptoms & Diagnosis


Allergies Treatment & Care

Allergies are usually encountered in the early spring season, when lots of trees begin to pollinate. The pollen of trees such as oak, cedar, elm, birch or walnut is considered an allergen and can be easily inhaled. Herbs germinate at the end of the spring and the beginning of summer, being an additional reason for the high occurrence of allergies in this time of the year. In atopic people symptoms can extend to winter. It is paramount to try relieving the symptoms of an allergy disease because without doing so, the allergy may worsen over time and there can be complications which require much more complex treatments. Allergic diseases can spread, reaching the lungs and increasing the risk of developing asthma. Almost half of people (atopic or not) suffering from long-term allergies develop asthma or sinusitis in time.

For mild and moderate allergies, prescription drugs should be enough. Most allergic diseases pills act similarly and aim at diminishing or stopping the immune system’s response to the triggering allergen. Specialists and doctors often recommend undergoing a preventive medication session before the allergy season starts. See below a list with different kinds of medication types used in treating allergies:

  • Antihistamines – They prevent cells in the body from releasing histamines that trigger symptoms similar to those of a cold. Non-prescription variants that can be administered orally are often combined with a decongestant to relieve the symptoms. Antihistamines can be used to treat runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing etc. The main side effect of antihistamines is that they induce somnolence or drowsiness.
  • Corticosteroids (administered only intranasal – Being stronger than antihistamines, corticosteroids are spray-based medication considered the most effective when it comes to allergy diseases. They are effective in combating congestions and other upsetting symptoms of any allergy. The downside of using corticosteroids is that the patient needs to wait up to one week in order to notice any improvement. Plus, there is a greater risk of side effects like nasal bleeding, irritation etc.
  •  Decongestants – For using decongestants, the patient doesn’t need a prescription. Due to the fact decongestants can be administered both orally and intranasal, they have a very rapid action. Decongestants act like a constrictor for each blood vessel and their action helps to reduce the amount of fluid secreted by the nose. Yet, the effect of decongestants is temporary and a person may need to use them continuously for a proper result. Using decongestants for more than three or four days can cause chemical burns inside the nasal airways.

Plus, along with the recommended treatment, acupuncture can help. Stimulating certain points in the body can cause reactions inside of it, meaning that a person is capable of activating the immune system to work properly. A study conducted on a group of 26 patients who suffered from multiple allergies proved the effect of acupuncture. Besides medical solutions for allergy diseases, there are some measurements that a person suffering from these should take in order to reduce the symptoms, as follows:

  • To reduce the amount of pollen in the atmosphere
  • Selecting food properly
  • Cleaning the air conditioning system
  • Wearing natural fibre clothing
  • Avoiding smoking (including passive smoking)
  • Dusting the house often


Who can develop an allergy?

Not everyone experienced an allergy, but the tendency for allergy disease inheriting from one or both parents became high during the last few years. The genetic factor is the one causing atopy and, therefore, a sensibility to allergens. Yet, one should not mistake allergies and atopy. Until the age of ten, one out of ten people had experienced a mild allergy due to an exterior triggering factor. In some cases, the symptoms of an allergy disappear on their own, but a high percentage of people suffering from allergies develop further complications. The people who occasionally had minor signs of allergies in the childhood can be more prone to developing severe, persistent symptoms during adulthood. Some people are born with certain predispositions to certain allergens and some simply develop them during adulthood.

Many experts point out that environmental changes such as high temperature and carbon dioxide levels have led to an increase into the impact of certain allergens like airborne emissions in the present compared to the last few years. Being exposed to an allergen in a higher dose may trigger an allergy in adulthood. Another reason for experiencing an allergy would be traveling between countries where a person is exposing to other specific allergens that the body is not yet used to, therefore confusing the immune system. For instance, one third of people who are allergic to pollen may have negative reactions to various foods too. These body reactions are not violent, but they may consist of mild symptoms that can be uncomfortable. If the allergy is triggered by tree pollen, it can be accompanied by unpleasant reactions to apples, cherries, plums or almonds. There are patients experiencing stomach pains and even anaphylactic shocks from an initially mild allergy.


The Difference Between Atopy and Allergy

A misunderstanding that often occurs for people who are not well-informed about allergies is confusing the terms of atopy and allergy. In medical terms, atopy is a genetically inherited predisposition for allergic diseases, evidenced by a greater number of eosinophil and IgE, value which depends on the age of each person. IgE is an immunoglobulin fixed by the Fc fragment on the mast cell surface. Coupling it with the antigen produces the degranulation of the mast cell and the result is triggering an allergic reaction. A distinction between atopy and allergy can be clearly emphasized when addressing the use of the latter one: allergy became a term that people use to depict all the existent immune responses to different sorts of factors (including medical drug side effects or food). Yet, atopy and the high levels of IgE signify a more complex concept that is specific to people who are genetically predisposed to develop hay fever, asthma or eczema. If a parent suffers from atopy, there is a probability of 30% that it will pass to children. When dealing with atopy, it is very likely to develop many allergy predispositions during a lifetime, as the immune system finds itself in continuous changing. For instance, the pollen allergy is typical and occurs over short and repetitive periods of time in both atopic and non-atopic persons.


The Difference Between Atopy and Allergy

Last updated on June 19th, 2018

Chris Riley

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