Allergies: What are they?

Allergies: 
What are they?

Allergies can have many triggers and can be very painful to live with

What causes allergies?

Your allergies come from your genetic makeup because your genetics are what tells your immune system how to defend you against harmful substances. However, the body can confuse harmless substances with harmful ones. When this happens, the body attacks the harmless substance and you experience allergy symptoms. The substance that causes your allergies is called an allergen.

What are some common allergens?

  • Foods - Some of the most common allergies come from foods including:
    • Milk
    • Eggs
    • Peanuts
    • Tree Nuts
    • Soy
    • Wheat
    • Fish
    • Shellfish
  • Insects - Allergic reactions from bugs can come from bites, stings, and from just being around certain bugs like cockroaches or dust mites.
  • Inhalants - Inhaling certain substances can lead to allergic reactions. Some common inhalants are pollen, pet dander, dust mites, mold, and fungus spores.
  • Contact - Skin contact with certain items can cause allergic reactions in the form of rashes. Some of these things include latex, plants, soap, cosmetics, and jewelry.
  • Medications - Most of the time reactions to medications are classified as non-allergic reactions but allergic reactions do happen.

Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that onsets very rapidly. If not treated quickly anaphylaxis can cause death. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include an itchy rash, shortness of breath, throat swelling, tongue swelling, lightheadedness, vomiting, and low blood pressure.

Common Allergy Symptoms

Your allergic reaction is going to be different compared to someone else but there are some common symptoms.

  • Itchiness
  • Red skin
  • Mucous membrane irritation
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Congestion
  • Increased heart rate
  • Vomiting

Symptoms that impact the nasal cavities such as inflammation of the nasal mucous membrane, sneezing, and runny nose are all grouped together as rhinitis. The two types of rhinitis are allergic and non-allergic rhinitis.

Allergic Rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis occurs when something that isn’t usually infectious causes sneezing, congestion, itchy eyes, and other similar symptoms. Some of the substances that commonly cause allergic rhinitis include pollen, mold, dust mites, animal hair, chemicals, foods, medicines, and insect venom.

Certain allergic rhinitis causes are common during different times of the year

  • Tree pollen - Late March and Early April
  • Hay fever (hypersensitivity to ragweed) - Spring and Late Summer
  • Mold Spores - October and November

Perennial Allergic Rhinitis

Perennial allergic rhinitis occurs year-round and is a result of a sensitivity to carpeting, houseplants, pet hair, upholstery, and mold.

Non-Allergic Rhinitis

Non-allergic rhinitis is not a result of an allergic reaction. The symptoms are caused by irritants in the environment such as cigarette smoke, strong odors, alcohol, and cold temperatures. You may also suffer from non-allergic rhinitis due to nasal blockages like a deviated septum or nasal polyps.

Allergy Testing

Some allergy testing facilities will just do a few pricks and then send you away with a prescription. However, diagnosing and testing allergies is more complex than just administering a simple prick test. The two other key steps in the allergy testing process are medical history and allergy test selection.

The medical history of your symptoms

To correctly diagnose symptoms, a detailed clinical history is essential. This history should include:

  • Patient’ first-hand account of their symptoms
  • A structured questionnaire that can gather information about previous allergic diseases
  • Discussion about frequency, severity, duration, and occurrence of symptoms. It should include triggering factors, life-threatening events, and the success of avoidance.
  • Details about diet
  • Family history
  • Environmental risks you may face at home or school
  • List of past and current medications

These details along with a physical exam will help the doctor determine what allergies to test for.

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Allergy Treatment Options

Your allergy treatment will be unique to you based on your personal goals as well as the severity and cause of your allergies. Some common options include:

  • Avoidance - Avoiding your allergens, when possible, can help reduce allergies.
  • Medication - Decongestants and antihistamines can help you control your allergy symptoms but will not fix the root cause.
  • Immunotherapy - Immunotherapy comes in the form of shots or drops. The immunotherapy solution contains a little of your allergen and will help you build a resistance to your allergen over time.
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