Blue Hills is proud to promote Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month this May. More than 50 million Americans experience some form of allergies each year. This post is focused on allergies - how they work and how to help treat them. We hope it helps you and your loved ones learn more about allergies as it is a very common yet overlooked disease.
What is an allergy?
An allergy occurs when your immune system reacts to a foreign substance, also known as an allergen. An allergen can be from something you eat, inhale into your lungs, infect into your body, or touch. Reactions range from coughing, sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose, and a scratchy throat. In more severe cases, it can cause rashes, hives, low blood pressure, breathing trouble, asthma attacks, and even death.
Your immune system produces substances called antibodies. When an allergy occurs, your immune system makes these antibodies to identify a particular allergen as harmful, even though it isn’t. The immune system continues to produce these antibodies to lookout for that particular allergen. When you are exposed to allergen again, these antibodies cause a release of immune system chemicals, such as histamine, that cause allergy symptoms.
The video below is a great resource to help you learn more about how allergies work!
Unfortunately there is no cure for allergies, but they can be managed with prevention and treatment.
Signs and Symptoms:
There are many different types of allergies that cause different reactions. The most common ones include:
Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, can cause sneezing, itching of the nose, eyes, or roof of the mouth, runny and stuffy nose, watery, red, or swollen eyes. Examples airborne allergens, such as pollen, animal dander, dust mites, and mold.
Food allergies can cause tingling in the mouth, swelling of the lips, tongue, face or throat, hives, anaphylaxis. Common examples include peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, eggs, and milk.
An insect sting allergy can cause a large area of swelling at the sting site, itching or hives all over the body, cough, chest tightness, wheezing, or shortness of breath, anaphylaxis. Examples include bee or wasp stings.
A drug allergy can cause hives, itchy skin, rash, facial swelling, wheezing, anaphylaxis. A common drug allergy is penicillin.
Atopic dermatitis, an allergic skin condition more commonly known as eczema, can cause skin to itch, redden, flakes or peel. Common skin allergies include plants like poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac, and latex.
There are allergies that can triggers a severe reaction known as anaphylaxis. Signs and symptoms include:
loss of consciousness
drop in blood pressure
severe shortness of breath
a rapid, weak pulse
nausea and vomiting
If this happens, call 911 or seek emergency help. If you carry an epinephrine auto injector such as Auvi-Q or EpiPen, give yourself a shot right away. Other complications include asthma and sinusitis and infections of the ears and lungs.
Preventing allergic reactions depends on the type of allergy you have. General measures include the following:
Avoid known triggers. Even if you’re treating your allergy symptoms with over the counter medications, try to avoid triggers. If you’re allergic to pollen, try to stay inside when the pollen count it high. If you’re allergic to dust mites, dust, vacuum, and wash bedding often.
Keep a diary. This is particularly helping when trying to identify what is causing or worsening your allergic symptoms. Track your activities, what you eat, when symptoms occur, and what seems to help. This will help you and your doctor identify triggers.
Wear a medical alert bracelet. If you’ve had a severe allergic reaction, wearing a medical alert bracelet lets others know you have a serious allergy in cause you have a serious reactions and you’re unable to communicate.
If you think you have an allergy, it’s important to talk with your doctor. The doctor may ask you questions about your symptoms, perform a physical exam, and have you keep a detailed diary of symptoms and possible triggers. Your doctor may also recommend a skin or blood test.
Skin test. A doctor or nurse will prick your skin and expose you to small amounts of the proteins found in potential allergens. If you’re allergic, you’ll likely develop a raised bump at the test location on your skin.
Blood test. Commonly called radioallergosorbent test (RAST) or ImmunoCAP testing, measures the amount of allergy causing antibodies in your bloodstream, known as immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. A blood sample is sent to a medical laboratory to be tested for evidence of sensitivity to possible allergens.
Allergy treatments include:
Allergen avoidance. Your doctor will help you take steps to identify and avoid your allergy triggers. This is generally the most important step in preventing allergic reactions and reducing symptoms.
Medications. Depending on your allergy, medications can help reduce your immune system reaction and ease symptoms. Your doctor might suggest over-the-counter or prescription medication in the form of pills or liquid, nasal sprays, or eyedrops.
Immunotherapy. For severe allergies or allergies not completely relieved by other treatment, your doctor might recommend allergen immunotherapy. This treatment involves a series of injections of purified allergen extracts, usually given over a period of a few years. Another form of immunotherapy is a tablet that's placed under the tongue (sublingual) until it dissolves. Sublingual drugs are used to treat some pollen allergies.
Emergency epinephrine. If you have a severe allergy, you might need to carry an emergency epinephrine shot at all times. Given for severe allergic reactions, an epinephrine shot (Auvi-Q, EpiPen, others) can reduce symptoms until you get emergency treatment.