Allergies are an abnormal response by the immune system to a foreign substance (allergen) such as pollen, dander, mold, or peanuts. Allergies are a common problem that affects approximately 20% of people in America.
Your body produces natural antibodies that protect you from viruses, bacteria, and other harmful substances. When you have allergies, your body thinks a harmless substance is a foreign invader. The reaction of your immune system can cause skin inflammation, irritated airways, nasal congestion, and digestive upset. If possible, it’s best to avoid the irritating substance, but there are also medications that can increase tolerability.
The severity of symptoms can be mild or potentially life threatening. In the most severe situations, a person can suffer from anaphylaxis, the most severe type of allergic reaction that causes respiratory difficulties, throat swelling, and low blood pressure. Most allergies can’t be cured, but there are treatments that can reduce the severity of symptoms.
Approximately 50 million Americans suffer from allergies. Allergies are the fifth most common type of chronic disease in all people and the third most common type of chronic disease in children. Allergies can be seasonal or perennial, depending on the cause of the allergies. People who are allergic to pollens, grasses, and weeds tend to suffer from seasonal allergies, while people sensitive to dust mites, animal dander, mold, or food can suffer from allergies all year long.
People can be allergic to food, pets, pollen, mold, and many other seemingly innocuous substances. After being exposed to the substance, the body will produce an allergy response that causes symptoms.
Common food allergies include:
Common seasonal allergies include:
Common pet allergies include:
Other allergens include:
Allergy symptoms depend on what type of allergen caused the reaction. Allergic reactions can involve the respiratory system, skin, and/or digestive system.
Respiratory allergy symptoms include:
Skin allergy symptoms include:
Food allergy symptoms include:
Insect sting allergy symptoms include:
Drug allergy symptoms include:
If possible, avoid contact with allergens. If you suffer from outdoor allergies, keep your windows closed. Filter the air and make sure your air ducts are cleaned at least once per year. In the car, keep the windows closed and recirculate the air inside the cabin.
If you are allergic to dust, wear a mask and gloves when cleaning. Vacuum at least twice per week and choose hardwood flooring instead of carpet when possible. Avoid Venetian blinds or long drapes, which can collect dust.
If you are allergic to mold, keep the humidity in the house below 50%. Avoid areas where mold tends to collect including basements, garages, and barns. Clean your bathroom regularly with solutions that kill mold.
There are several over-the-counter and prescription medications to treat allergies. Commonly used medications include corticosteroids, antihistamines, nasal sprays, creams, eye drops, and decongestants. Talk to your doctor about your treatment choices.
Corticosteroids can reduce inflammation associated with allergies. These drugs prevent your body from manufacturing the chemicals that cause allergy symptoms. Corticosteroids are highly effective for treating allergies, but they must be taken daily in order to benefit. Common nasal corticosteroids used to treat allergies include:
Side effects of corticosteroids include mouth, throat, and nasal irritations, nosebleeds, eye infections, skin discoloration, and muscle weakness. Let your doctor know if you have issues with high blood pressure or glaucoma.
Antihistamines have been used for many years to treat allergy symptoms. These drugs block the release of the histamines that cause allergy symptoms. Two effective prescription medications used to treat allergies include:
Antihistamines are typically taken with decongestants. These medications come as pills, liquids, and nasal sprays and provide temporary relief from symptoms. Over the counter decongestants and antihistamines can cause tiredness. There are newer medications available over-the-counter and by prescription that have daytime formulations. Other side effects of antihistamines and decongestants include dry mouth, dizziness, headache, nausea, as well as mouth, throat, and nasal irritation.
The drugs you use depend on the type of allergies you have. Your doctor can help you choose the right medication based on your symptoms.