An allergy is an abnormal reaction to ordinarily harmless substance or substances. These sensitizing substances, called allergens, may be inhaled, swallowed or come into contact with the skin. When an allergen is absorbed into the body it triggers white blood cells to produce IgE antibodies. These antibodies attach themselves to mast cells causing release of potent chemical mediators such as histamine, causing typical allergic symptoms. A person who has allergies doesn’t have a poor immune system, rather an over protective one. Their immune system fights the allergen when it comes in contact with it even though the allergen isn’t harmful.
To diagnose allergies a physician will clean the person’s back with alcohol, then mark it with an ink pen according to each substance going to tested. They are extracts of potential allergens in small vials. A drop of these is put on the corresponding mark on your skin, and then a needle is used to prick the skin. It breaks the surface of the skin so that the extract can enter. If an extract provokes an allergic reaction, the patient will develop an irritation that may look like a mosquito bite. The ones which promote reactions are the ones in which the person is allergic to and needs to get medication for.
Allergies are quite common. An estimated 50 to 60 million Americans, about one of every five adults and children, suffer from allergies, including allergic asthma. Allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic disease in the United States. More than 35 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergic rhinitis, for instance, and this is only one form of allergy. Millions more suffer from food allergies, allergies to medications, and even contact dermatitis (a type of allergic reaction that occurs when your skin comes into contact with an irritating substance).
Allergies have a genetic component. If only one parent has allergies, chances are one in three that each child will have an allergy. If both parents have allergies, it is much more likely (7 in 10) that their children will have allergies.
Although any environmental material can cause allergies, certain ones are encountered more frequently than are others. Inhalants such as pollens, mold spores, animal products (dander, saliva, urine), house dust, and house dust mites are very common allergies. There are Foods such as cow’s milk, eggs, chicken, shellfish, whitefish, peanuts, soybeans, wheat products, chocolate, celery, and all products containing one or more of these ingredients. Some individuals are allergic to food additives, such as sulfites (used as a preservative), nitrates, and others. There are people who are allergic to drugs such as penicillin. Substances which touch the skin can also cause allergic reactions, which include plant oils, cosmetics and perfumes, nickel in jewelry or on buckles and under garment fasteners, hair dyes, topical medications including their additives.
One unusual reaction is the severe allergic reactions caused by direct contact with latex found in gloves, catheters, condoms, dental dams, and other medical devices. These disorders are reportedly caused by allergy to a protein in the latex.
The best pets, for a person with allergies, are turtles, hermit crabs, fish, snakes or any animal that does not have hair and dander.
The Allergies in nature throughout the United States vary when they occur in the different parts of the country. In the Northeast (where we live) they go as follows: trees are from March to June, grasses are from May to August, and ragweed is from August to October (except northern tips of Maine and Michigan).
There are 3 main steps in the treatment of allergies: avoid the specific allergen, medication (drugs can be taken for the target organ affected), and Immunotherapy is appropriate in some, but not all, allergy conditions.
The types of medication used in helping the allergies in people are Steroids (reduce the inflammation or swelling of the nasal tissue), Antihistamines (counteract the histamine released in the body which causes the many symptoms), Bronchodilators (relieve difficulty in breathing), and Decongestants (reduce the congestion). These don’t actually cure allergies but they can reduce the effects of them.
Antihistamines are used to relieve or prevent the symptoms of allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and other allergies. They work by preventing the effects of histamine, a substance produced by the body during an allergic reaction. Antihistamines come in tablet, capsule, liquid, or injection form and are available both over-the-counter and by prescription. Many antihistamines cause drowsiness, but newer antihistamines (terfenadine, astemazole, loratadine, and others not yet released) rarely cause this side effect. Other common side effects include dry mouth, difficult urination, constipation and confusion. Some may experience nightmares, unusual excitement or nervousness, restlessness or irritability. A famous Antihistamine used today is Claritin (loratadine) and is one of the most widely used drugs to treat allergies today.
Decongestants are used to treat nasal congestion and other symptoms associated with colds and allergies. They work by narrowing blood vessels, leading to the clearing of nasal congestion. Decongestants are available both over-the-counter and by prescription. The commonly used forms are liquid and tablet. Nose sprays or drops may be used for acute situations but for no more than two to three days in a row. Over-the-counter nasal sprays, if used for a prolonged period of time, can cause “rebound rhinitis” or nasal congestion symptoms. Decongestants can cause nervousness, sleeplessness, or elevation in blood pressure. If the nasal spray form is used too long, it may cause even more nasal congestion.
Bronchodilators are used to relieve coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and difficulty in breathing. They work by opening up the bronchial tubes (the air passages in the lungs) so that more air can flow through. Bronchodilators include beta-agonists, theophylline, and anticholinergics. They come in inhaled, tablet, capsule, liquid, or injectible forms.
Bronchodilators may cause nausea, vomiting, headache, nervousness, restlessness, and insomnia, especially in elderly patients and children, who are more sensitive to the effects of medications.
Cromolyn, nedocromil, and corticosteroids reduce the inflammation in the airways. Inflammation causes the bronchi to become “twitchy.” A “twitchy” airway is more sensitive to various asthma triggers such as exercise, cold air, smoke, cold viruses and allergens. Anti-Inflammatory medications usually are prescribed in the inhaled form. Corticosteroids, in some cases, are prescribed in oral form. Long-term use of corticosteroids, particularly oral steroids, is not recommended, except in cases of uncontrolled asthma. Long-term oral corticosteroid use may cause side effects such as ulcers, weight gain, cataracts, weakening bones, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, and easy bruising. Possible side effects from inhaled anti-inflammatory medications include coughing and hoarseness.
Signs of allergic reactions range from the very mild (almost unnoticeable) symptoms to potentially life-threatening conditions that land countless Americans in hospital emergency rooms each year. Anaphylaxis is an acute allergic reaction which affects the whole body and requires immediate medical attention. Many people who are severely allergic to something may have this reaction. Symptoms include anxiety, itching of the skin, headache, nausea and vomiting, sneezing and coughing, abdominal cramps, hives and swelling of tissues such as lips and joints, diarrhea, shortness of breath and wheezing, low blood pressure, convulsions, and loss of consciousness. A quick, decisive epinephrine injection can literally be a lifesaver in the case of exposure to an allergen that has previously caused an reaction.
Allergy injections are a method of treating patients with hayfever and asthma. Small amounts of an allergy extract (pollens, molds, animal danders, or dust) are injected at regular intervals into the patient to build up protective antibodies and decrease the patient’s sensitivity. Injections are administered into the side of the arm with a very short small gauge needle. These injections are given just under the skin in the subcutaneous layer. After a buildup period, a high percentage of patients respond with favorable results and are able to tolerate exposure to offending allergens without a significant allergic reaction. Since a small percentage of patients can have a reaction to the injection, patients usually wait 10-20 minutes in the doctor’s office after the injection.
There are a lot of myths on how to get rid of allergies. Moving to a new place such as Arizona (like some people think) will make them get rid of their allergies. Changing the set of allergens can’t change that. The partial truth here is that the best treatment for any allergy is to remove the source of allergens, something usually easier than moving. Some people think that if you don’t have a cold and you have a runny nose and you are sneezing, then you have allergies.
Research in Arizona found that many people who believe they have allergies actually do not have the antibodies in their blood necessary to provoke an allergic reaction. Self-diagnosis isn’t easy like most humans believe. Some other people believe that Allergies and asthma are different parts of the same health problem. While they are related, there are differences: Asthma can kill you, while allergies (except for reactions to insect stings, certain foods and drugs) are more of a nuisance than a threat. Just because you don’t have allergies when you are a child, doesn’t mean you can’t ever get them. Allergies can start at any age. However, allergies do tend to change over time. Children are more allergic to foods. Young adults can become allergic to pharmaceutical drugs, pollen and insect stings.
New advancements in drugs and other ways to help out allergies are being made as we speak. The ways in which we take care of them is being updated all of the time and the future holds great ideas on how to get rid of allergies. In the next few years, the drugs that will be put out will lesson the symptoms and decrease in side effects. Because allergies effect a vast amount of people in the world, medicines are being highly tested in order to find the best ways to control the allergens.
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