Overview and Facts
If you suspect you have allergies, you’re not alone. Allergies, which are exaggerated immune responses to substances that are generally not harmful, affect at least two out of every 10 Americans. These substances are called allergens and can be anything from pollen to animal dander to mold. If you are allergic to one of these types of substances, you will likely have an allergic reaction when you come into contact with the substance.
Common types of allergies:
Pet allergies (dog allergies and cat allergies)
Signs and Symptoms
Allergy symptoms vary based on the type and can range from very mild to quite severe. The part of the body that is contacted by the allergen plays a role in the symptoms you develop. Mild to moderate symptoms include:
- Itchy, runny nose
- Tearing or itchy eyes
- Breathing problems
There are also more severe allergy symptoms such as Anaphylaxis, a rare, life-threatening allergic reaction in which the body suddenly reacts to the allergen and affects the entire body. Though the symptoms begin with sudden itching of the eyes or face, within minutes they can progress to more serious allergy symptoms, including swellings that can make breathing difficult, abdominal pain, cramps, vomiting and dizziness.
Causes and Diagnosis
Usually the immune system protects the body against harmful substances. In a person who has allergies, the immune response is oversensitive – when it recognizes an allergen, it releases histamines that fight the allergen, causing typical allergy symptoms such as sneezing, itching and swelling.
Common allergens that cause allergic reactions are dust, mold, pet dander and pollen. Food allergies such as peanut allergies and milk allergies are common, as are allergies to certain drugs. Insect bites or stings, beauty and skincare products and jewelry could also cause allergy symptoms.
A series of different tests can be used to diagnose allergies and determine what a person is allergic to. Over-the-counter or prescription medications may be recommended depending on the severity. Allergy shots could also be prescribed.
Tests and Treatment Options
There are several different tests doctors use to determine whether or not a person has allergies and what he or she is allergic to. Usually a doctor will begin with a series of questions to understand the type of allergy symptoms and what is triggering the symptoms.
Next, a skin test is administered to identify the exact substances that are causing allergic reactions. A small amount of an allergen extract is exposed to the skin and the doctor then evaluates the skin’s reaction.
There are three main types of skin tests:
- Scratch test: a small prick is made in the skin, allowing the allergen to enter the epidermis
- Intradermal test: a small amount of the allergen is injected under the skin
- Patch test: the allergen is applied to a patch, which is then placed on the skin
- Antihistamines: A common method of providing allergy relief. They are available by prescription and over-the-counter and come in different forms, including nasal spray, pills, liquids and eye drops. Examples of antihistamines include Benadryl, Claritin, Zyrtec, Clarinex and Allegra.
- Decongestants: Best for relieving congestion and stuffy noses. They come in nasal spray, liquid, eye drops and pill form. Examples include Sudafed, Claritin-D, Allegra-D.
- Allergy shots: This is usually only recommended if the allergy symptoms are difficult to control. The shots gradually increase a person’s ability to tolerate allergies and require frequent doctor visits.
Helpful Tips and Home Remedies
When allergy season hits, it’s important to do what you can to avoid allergy triggers and remedy allergy symptoms. Here are some tips to help:
- Stay aware of the pollen count. Local weather reports will have the pollen count. The count usually is highest from 5-10 a.m., so avoid the outdoors during times and on days that the count is high.
- Keep pollen out of your home. Pollen can come inside open windows and stick to clothes, so keep windows closed and wash your clothes often. Don’t hang clothes outdoors to dry.
- Reduce mold exposure. Use a dehumidifier and get rid of visible mold growth by cleaning with a bleach solution.
- Avoid insect stings and bites. Don’t wear sweet-scented products, as they entice insects. If you will be outdoors, wear long sleeves and pants to cover as much skin as possible.
- Reduce dust mites. Wash sheets in hot water and remove carpets and rugs from your home.