The number of people with allergic diseases has been going up for more than 50 years.

*According to the World Health Organization

What are Allergies?

Allergies are the most common long-term condition in the world. They can cause reactions that range from mildly annoying to life-threatening. In short, an allergy is when the immune system of the body reacts to something it thinks is a threat. So, the immune system makes antibodies, which go to cells all over the body and cause them to release histamines, causing an allergic reaction.

Allergens come into contact with the body all the time. In normal situations, the body doesn’t have a response that makes inflammation worse. This is called a Type 1 immune response. When an allergen is in the body of someone with allergies, however, the body switches to what is called a Type 2 immune response. In a Type 2 immune response, the immune system sends in T helper type 2 cells, which leads to the production of immunoglobulin (Ig) E molecules, which in turn cause the production of histamines and other chemicals.

There are steps to getting an allergy. When the body is exposed to an allergen for the first time and responds with a Type 2 immune response, this is called allergic sensitization. During this process, the body “learns” to recognize the allergen. So, the next time the allergen comes into contact with the body, the inflammatory response is already set up and ready to go.

01

Symptoms

While there are some common symptoms associated with allergies, signs and symptoms of allergies will vary from patient to patient and may depend on the type of allergy involved.

02

Causes

What is known is that allergies result from the exposure of the body to an allergen. What is not known is exactly what causes the body to switch from a Type 1 to Type 2 response when confronted with an allergen.

03

Treatment

How to treat allergies depends on the patient’s specific allergy or allergies. There are no known cures for the various allergies, but there are a range of treatments that can address and ameliorate allergy symptoms.

Types of Allergies

There are many different types of allergies, each triggered by its own allergen or category of allergens. The following are some of the most common allergies:

Patients with many allergies can limit their exposure to allergens by staying away from certain places or following certain rules. But with some allergies, like an insect or pollen allergy, the person can’t always avoid being exposed. There can also be pollen allergies that only happen at certain times of the year.

Signs & Symptoms of Allergies

While there are some common symptoms associated with allergies, signs and symptoms of allergies will vary from patient to patient and may depend on the type of allergy involved. For example, a latex allergy might create a skin response while a pollen allergy will generate respiratory symptoms.

  • Allergic rhinitis, i.e. sneezing and an itchy, runny nose
  • Conjunctivitis, i.e. itchy, watery eyes
  • Swollen, tongue, face, eyes, or lips
  • Wheezing and coughing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in the stomach
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Red, rashy or cracked skin

Signs of anaphylaxis include:

  • Swelling in throat and mouth
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness and confusion
  • Blue skin and lips
  • Fainting or collapsing

How Long Do Allergy Symptoms Last?

This varies from one type of allergy to the next, and can run anywhere from a few hours to days. In the case of seasonal allergies, symptoms can be present for weeks or even months. If a patient is in anaphylaxis, they should receive immediate medical attention and not wait for the resolution of symptoms.

Food Allergy - Example Food That Can Trigger Allergies

What Causes Allergies?

We know that allergies happen when the body comes into contact with an allergen. What is not known is why the body changes from a Type 1 response to a Type 2 response when an allergen is present.

There is a genetic factor, though. People with one allergic parent have a 30–50% chance of getting an allergy themselves, while people with two allergic parents can have as high as an 80% chance.

Anyone can get allergies at any time in their lives. For example, an adult can get a new allergy if they are exposed to new things or if their immune system changes. Some common allergens that cause allergic reactions are:

  • Shellfish
  • Nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Dust
  • Animal or pet dander
  • Insect stings
  • Medications
  • Latex
  • Mold
  • Milk

Who’s at Risk for Allergies?

As mentioned above, those with a family history of allergies are at a higher risk of developing allergies. While many allergies develop during childhood, adults in their 20s and 30s are also at risk of developing allergies. Those with existing asthma are also at a higher risk of developing an allergy.

Family history of allergies
Adults in their 20s and 30s
Existing asthma

How are Allergies Treated?

How to treat allergies depends on the patient’s specific allergy or allergies. There are no known cures for the various allergies, but there are a range of treatments that can address and ameliorate allergy symptoms.

The best preventative treatment is to avoid exposure to an allergen as much as possible. When exposure to an allergen does occur, there are several different treatments that can help with allergies, including shots, oral medications, and drops. The following are some of the most common treatments for allergies:

01

Nasal Corticosteroids

These nasal sprays are injected directly into the nose, reducing the swelling that causes allergic rhinitis. These medications are most commonly used in the treatment of nasal allergies such as pollen allergies.

02

Oral Corticosteroids

These medications stop several allergic reactions and reduce swelling. They are powerful medications and require the close supervision of the prescribing physician.

03

Antihistamines

Antihistamines cone in pill, liquid, tablet or spray form and work to block the release of histamines in the body. They are most commonly used to treat indoor or seasonal allergies. Mast cell stabilizers also stop the release of histamines and are used in eye drop or nose spray form.

04

Epinephrine

Epinephrine is delivered to the body via a self-injectable device loaded with a pre-measured dose. It is an essential tool in addressing anaphylaxis. Any patient at risk of anaphylaxis will typically carry one of these devices with them. Epinephrine is commonly used to treat those with insect, food, or drug allergies.

05

Corticosteroid Creams and Ointments

This type of allergy treatment is used to alleviate the itch and discomfort associated with the skin rashes that can result from some allergies.

Frequently Asked Questions

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