Allergies affect approximately 20 percent of Americans causing a great deal of misery. The tendency to have an allergy is inherited. When one parent is allergic, their child has a 50% chance of also having an allergy. That risk goes up to 75% when both parents have an allergy, though not necessarily to the same thing. People who are allergic (hypersensitive) to one thing often seem to have reactions to many things.
It is also likely that the environment plays an important role in allergy development. Being exposed to different substances in early childhood can have an effect on the development of a hypersensitivity. For example, on one hand highly allergenic foods given to children have been shown to predispose them to food allergies and atopic dermatitis. On the other hand, studies have shown that having pets may help protect against the development of allergy symptoms. Infections also play a role. Ultimately, an allergy is probably not caused by a single event, but multiple events occurring to a genetically susceptible person.
Allergic reactions happen when a persons immune system overreacts to a normally harmless substance that other people are not affected by. The body treats the substance as an invader and fights to protect itself. These everday substances are then referred to as allergens (or allergy triggers). When someone inhales, ingests or touches an allergen their immune system goes into overdrive and pumps Histamine into the bloodstream which causes most of the symptoms of the Allergic reaction.
Most Common Allergies
Although Allergic reactions can be caused by almost anything, some of the most common causes are:
- Pollens (grass, weed, tree) – (Hay Fever or Allergic Rhinitis)
- Dust Mites and their waste
- Household Dust, consists of 95% human skin flakes
- Animal Proteins, like dander, urine, oil from skin
- Nuts (Peanuts in particular)
- Industrial Chemicals
- Insect Stings
- Cockroaches and their waste
- Parasite Bites
Allergies – The Symptoms
When the allergen is inhaled or comes in contact with the skin symptoms include:
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Itchy, runny nose
- Rashes (including Hives, Atopic Dermatitis)
- Feeling tired or ill
If the allergen is eaten (Food Allergies) then symptoms can include:
- Stomach cramps
If the allergen is an Insect sting symptoms include:
- Local swelling
When you have an allergic reaction – symptoms can vary from the very mild, almost unnoticable, up to a severe reaction making you feel extremely ill. The most severe of these is anaphylaxis (an-a-fi-LAK-sis) where the whole body is involved and symptoms can include:
- Hives and itching all over (not just in the exposed area)
- Wheezing or shortness of breath
- Hoarseness or tightness in the throat
- Tingling in the hands, feet, lips, or scalp
Allergies can be life threatening if anaphylaxis affects the airways and you are not able to breathe, so get to an emergency room if there’s any suspicion of anaphylaxis.