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How to Recognize and Treat Allergies

Allergy Defined
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases defines an allergy as “a specific reaction of the body’s immune system to a normally harmless substance, one that does not bother most people.”

When an allergen is absorbed into the body of an allergic person through inhalation, ingestion, or the skin, the person’s immune system tries to fight off the allergen rather than react to it normally. When an allergen is detected in an allergic person’s body, white blood cells begin to produce IgE antibodies, which, in turn, attach to mast cells, causing a release of chemicals such as histamine. The chemicals released by this reaction cause allergy symptoms.

Some Common Allergens
There are several substances that can trigger an allergic reaction. Some common allergens include: pollen, mold, dust mites, animal dander, cockroach droppings, or indoor mildew. Skin allergies can be caused by contact with plants, cosmetics, medications, metals, and chemicals.

Airborne Allergy Symptoms
Many people are familiar with the signs and symptoms of airborne allergies, better known as hay fever. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases lists the symptoms of airborne allergies:

  • Sneezing, often with a runny or clogged nose
  • Coughing and postnasal drip
  • Itching eyes, nose, and throat
  • Watering eyes
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • A crease mark on the nose due to persistent rubbing upward

Food Allergy Symptoms
The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology offers a description of the most common signs and symptoms of an allergic food reaction:

  • Chest tightness, shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Skin reactions like hives, skin rashes, itching or flushing
  • Nasal congestions, nose itchiness or runny nose or sneezing
  • Itchy or watery eyes
  • Nausea, vomiting, colic, stomach cramps, or diarrhea
  • Itching or swelling of the lips, palate, tongue, or throat

Common allergy symptoms in babies who have a food allergy are hives, colic, eczema (red and itchy patches on the skin), and wheezing.

Because some allergy symptoms, particularly those caused by airborne allergens, can be similar to those of a cold or sinus infection, it is important to discuss persistent allergy symptoms with your primary care physician or an allergist. Your doctor can decide the proper cause of symptoms and help you with an appropriate treatment.

Is there a Cure for Allergies?
Since allergies are genetically inherited, it is not likely that you can completely cure your allergic reaction. More energy should be focused on keeping allergy symptoms under control. According to the AAAAI, “Successful treatment of allergies includes early detection, proper usage of medications, and simple allergen avoidance techniques.”

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