Allergy Basics

Did you know that one out of three people suffer from allergies? That’s a lot of people. You may be one of us. If you are, then you are all too familiar with the symptoms associated with an allergic reaction. The awfulness of itchy eyes, runny nose, rashes and hives, sinus pressure headaches, upset stomach…well, I don’t need to tell you. You know how it is.

You would think that with all the advancements in technology and medicine, that there would be a permanent cure for allergies, but there isn’t. Not yet, at least. But the more we learn and know about allergies – the causes, the symptoms, etc – the better equipped we are with dealing with the suffering and misery that come hand in hand with allergies.

There are a number of ways that you can improve the quality of your life even as an allergy sufferer and we cover them in this article. We’ll talk about practical tips on allergen avoidance, some medical options, and jewelry options.

Define Me

An allergy is what you have to something when your immune system identifies it as a threat to your health. It could be anything – and most of the time these allergens are harmless to other people. Because your immune system is hypersensitive to the allergen, it sends a signal to attack and eliminate the invader from your body.

This signal triggers a series of reactions; one of which is the release of histamine. This release is what makes our eyes water, our noses drip, etc. It’s our body’s way of getting rid of the allergen. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look glamorous, and quite frankly, most of the time, these symptoms make us feel uncomfortable. And it happens every single time we are exposed to the same allergen.

How Does it Feel? Common Symptoms of an Allergic Reaction

Different people have varying degrees of reaction to a particular antigen. Some people have severe reactions, others mild or moderate. Here’s a list of common symptoms:

Mild: sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes, watery eyes, runny nose, itchy body

Moderate: wheezing, mild rash, few hives, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea

Severe or Anaphylaxis: hives all over body, difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, confusion, dizziness, loss of consciousness, swelling of lips or throat

Most people experience mild to moderate allergic reactions. If you or someone you know has an extreme reaction to an allergen, it is very, very important to find medical attention immediately.

Why Me?

One thing we do know about allergies is that they are passed down from our parents and ancestors. If you have an allergy to peanuts, for instance, your children will be more likely to have a reaction as well. It’s not a guarantee – just a bigger chance.

That’s not to say that you can’t develop an allergic reaction to something on your own, because you can. For instance, as a child, you might have been able to wear gold jewelry. But as an adult the metal makes you break out in a rash.

The opposite holds true as well. For instance, as a child, you could have been allergic to strawberries, but as an adult you can eat them by the pound.

Yes, it’s all very puzzling – but true.

More interesting facts about allergies include the following: Young boys are more likely to suffer from allergies than girls. Asthma is more common in young adult females. Allergy sufferers are more common in developed nations and cities – basically industrialized areas – than the more remote, rural areas.

Another interesting fact is that children in large families are less likely to suffer from hay fever and eczema. The hygiene hypothesis states that children in large families are exposed to many infections early on in life, thus causing their immune systems to stay quite busy. Children in small families (1-2 children) are not exposed to as many, thus making it more likely for their immune systems to become hypersensitive. Fascinating, isn’t it?

Meet the Perpetrators – Common Allergens

Although it is possible to become allergic to anything, scientists have found a pattern – common antigens that many people react to. We’ve organized them into types: food, airborne, chemical, medicine, and metals.

Some food allergens (not a complete list):

  • Dairy (milk, ice cream, etc)
  • Eggs
  • Wheat products
  • Soy
  • Nuts
  • Seafood
  • Fruits (strawberry, mango, peach)

Possible reactions:

  • Rash (small, reddish bumps that look like pimples) around mouth
  • Hives (raised bumps – bigger than rash that look like insect bites) around mouth or anywhere on body
  • Vomit
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty swallowing (result of swelling in throat)

What to do? Consult a physician, identify the food (process of elimination), and not eat it again.

Most Common Airborne Allergens:

  • Pollen
  • Dust mites
  • Animal dander

These are harder to identify because they are small and in the air.

What to do to avoid exposure? Unless you want to live in a sterile bubble, there really is no way to eliminate exposure to airborne allergens. You can try to minimize exposure by keeping your windows shut on windy and high pollen count days and use the air conditioning system in your vehicle to filter the air. There are many air purifiers and filters available for use around the house as well. Most of us opt for over the counter antihistamines.

Consult your allergist for possible solutions. Options depend on the severity of your allergy and your personal preferences about pharmaceutical medicines.

If you are allergic to dust mites, the best course of action is to keep dust down in the house by dusting and vacuuming (use HEPA filter), and by washing sheets and towels in HOT water. Again, consult your allergist for more options.

Every one of us sheds skin. It’s a natural process. The dead skin flakes are called “dander” and some of us are allergic to it. If you have animal dander allergies, the best thing to do is limit your exposure to cute, fuzzy, furry animals.

Some Common Chemical Allergens:

  • Perfumes
  • Dyes
  • Latex products
  • Laundry detergents

Reactions include itchiness, fine rash, hives, eczema, and dermatitis. This is something that can totally be avoided. There are a lot of products that don’t have any dyes or perfumes – find something hypoallergenic that you like and stick with it.

Metal allergens:

  • Gold
  • Nickel

Just because you are allergic to certain metals does not mean that you cannot adorn yourself with attractive bangles and jewelry. It does not mean that you can’t wear your wedding ring. Titanium is a hypoallergenic metal. It does not irritate even the most sensitive skin. Plus it’s very durable and very lightweight and biocompatible. You can find at fine jewelry stores anywhere.

Medication allergens include:

  • Penicillin
  • Aspirin

Seek immediate medical treatment for medication allergies. Signs of allergic reaction include vomiting, hives, joint pain, difficulty breathing or swallowing, diarrhea, stomach pain, nausea, and dizziness. Because the medicine stays in your system for up to 10 days after you finish the prescription, these symptoms may not show up until a few days after you take all the medicine. Keep your guard up and tell your doctor right away.

Diagnosis

As with anything that bothers you, the best way to not suffer any allergic reaction to something is by avoidance. Sometimes it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that is causing the allergic reaction. It might take a few days and sometimes a few years. Try to narrow down the choices by process of elimination. You might need to be tested by an allergist.

Medication – How Do they Work?

If you and your allergist agree that medication is necessary for you to function well in life, it is good to keep in mind that the medicine does NOT get rid of the allergy. You are still allergic to the allergen. The medicine masks the symptoms that you feel because you are having an allergic reaction.

If you are severely allergic to something (say peanuts or wasp stings), your allergist may prescribe and recommend that you carry around a shot of epinephrine in the event of accidental exposure. If this is the case, wearing a Medic Alert bracelet is advisable.

Allergy shots are also an option. This is when small amounts of the allergen are injected into you so your body can slowly get accustomed to the gradual exposure and build resistance to the allergen. Talk to your allergist for details.

Words of Wisdom

  • Keep pets off the bed
  • Go with hardwood or tile floors instead of carpet
  • Stay indoors, keep windows closed, and drive with the A/C on high pollen count days
  • Use hypoallergenic bedding
  • Wash bedding and towels in hot water to kill dust mites
  • Look for hypoallergenic label on products
  • Keep dust to a minimum by cleaning and vacuuming daily
  • Wear Titanium jewelry

Possible reactions:

•Rash (small, reddish bumps that look like pimples) around mouth
•Hives (raised bumps – bigger than rash that look like insect bites) around mouth or anywhere on body
•Vomit
•Abdominal pain
•Bloating
•Diarrhea
•Difficulty swallowing (result of swelling in throat)

What to do?
Consult a physician, identify the food (process of elimination), and not eat it again.

Most Common Airborne Allergens:

•Pollen
•Dust mites
•Animal dander

These are harder to identify because they are small and in the air.

What to do to avoid exposure?
Unless you want to live in a sterile bubble, there really is no way to eliminate exposure to airborne allergens. You can try to minimize exposure by keeping your windows shut on windy and high pollen count days and use the air conditioning system in your vehicle to filter the air. There are many air purifiers and filters available for use around the house as well. Most of us opt for over the counter antihistamines.

Consult your allergist for possible solutions.

Options depend on the severity of your allergy and your personal preferences about pharmaceutical medicines.

If you are allergic to dust mites, the best course of action is to keep dust down in the house by dusting and vacuuming (use HEPA filter), and by washing sheets and towels in HOT water. Again, consult your allergist for more options.
Every one of us sheds skin. It’s a natural process. The dead skin flakes are called “dander” and some of us are allergic to it. If you have animal dander allergies, the best thing to do is limit your exposure to cute, fuzzy, furry animals.

Some Common Chemical Allergens:
•Perfumes
•Dyes
•Latex products
•Laundry detergents

Reactions include itchiness, fine rash, hives, eczema, and dermatitis. This is something that can totally be avoided. There are a lot of products that don’t have any dyes or perfumes – find something hypoallergenic that you like and stick with it.
Metal allergens:

•Gold
•Nickel

Just because you are allergic to certain metals does not mean that you cannot adorn yourself with attractive bangles and jewelry. It does not mean that you can’t wear your wedding ring. Titanium is a hypoallergenic metal. It does not irritate even the most sensitive skin. Plus it’s very durable and very lightweight and biocompatible. You can find at fine jewelry stores anywhere.
Medication allergens include:

•Penicillin
•Aspirin

Seek immediate medical treatment for medication allergies. Signs of allergic reaction include vomiting, hives, joint pain, difficulty breathing or swallowing, diarrhea, stomach pain, nausea, and dizziness. Because the medicine stays in your system for up to 10 days after you finish the prescription, these symptoms may not show up until a few days after you take all the medicine. Keep your guard up and tell your doctor right away.

Diagnosis
As with anything that bothers you, the best way to not suffer any allergic reaction to something is by avoidance. Sometimes it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that is causing the allergic reaction. It might take a few days and sometimes a few years. Try to narrow down the choices by process of elimination. You might need to be tested by an allergist.

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