What is allergy?
Allergy is a hyper response initiated by the body’s defensive immune system against any substance that the body considers as a foreign particle or entity. Foreign particles are termed as allergens in people who are allergic to them called “atopic persons”. Allergy can be due to an allergen like certain foods, chemicals, plants, animals, medication, season etc. Different people are allergic to different allergens. Allergy is specific and does not occur in every individual
Can allergy be fatal?
Allergic response to foods, pollens, plants, animals, chemicals is usually not dangerous but the severe form of allergy can be fatal. For example, an Anaphylactic shock is a fatal form of drug allergy.
How our body shows allergic response?
When a foreign particle or allergen enters our body, the immune system produces certain kinds of antibodies called IgE, IgM, IgA or IgD antibodies against a particular allergen as a defensive mechanism. These antibodies neutralize the allergens to make them inactive.
How much is the prevalence of allergy?
Allergy is one of the most common immune system-related diseases and according to a study, almost 10-30% population of the world suffers from any one of the allergic forms.
MAJOR SYMPTOMS OF ALLERGY
Signs and symptoms of allergy may vary from person to person and from allergen to allergen. Following symptoms can occur for particular allergens:
- General symptoms of allergy range from hives skin itching, nasal congestion, rashes, throat problems, itchiness in eyes, flushing, nausea and palpitations.
- Symptoms of food allergy may comprise swelling, flatulence, restlessness, body-ache immediately after a meal. Food allergies are very tricky to diagnose since food contains many ingredients and it is necessary to find which ingredient is causing allergy.
- Symptoms of seasonal allergy seem like signs of the common cold including coughing, sneezing, chest-congestion, rhinoria (runny nose), swelling in eyes and face. Seasonal allergy can be differentiated from the common cold because it involves rashes on the skin. This form of allergy is manageable using over the counter medication from a pharmacy.
- Anaphylactic shock is the most dangerous and sometimes fatal form of allergy in some individuals that are usually mediated by certain allergens like medications (anti-biotics) etc. Signs of anaphylaxis range from shortness of breath to vertigo, abdominal pain, unconsciousness and can even lead to death if left untreated.
MAIN CAUSES OF ALLERGY
In this age, scientists are still struggling to find the exact reason of allergy because the same allergen that causes allergy in some individuals, is harmless in other individuals.
- Genetic factors can be a cause of allergy because parents having an allergy can pass on their genes to their offsprings increasing the chances of the allergy to spread into the next generation.
- Certain foods that can mediate an allergic immune response in specific individuals can cause allergy in them. Common foods that cause allergy range from nuts to peanuts, gluten-containing foods, eggs, lactose (milk) and wheat.
- Bug bites can cause allergy-like bee stings, wasps and mosquito stings can mediate an immune response in certain individuals.
- Fungal moulds in the air can be inhaled by some individuals and can trigger an allergic reaction in them.
- Plants and herbs have certain components that can cause allergy. For example, pollen grains, poison-ivy grass, weed, resins and oak-wood are common plant-based allergens.
- Products from animals such as pet scurf, waste from mites and cockroaches, pet hairs, leather goods etc. can cause allergy in the people in close contact with these products.
- Medications can also cause moderate to severe form of allergic reactions in the human body. The most common examples are antibiotics especially sulphur containing medicins and penicillins can cause serious allergy in humans. This allergy can lead to a severe anaphylactic shock that is fatal if not treated in time. Anaphylaxis is marked with oedema, hoarseness, chest congestion, breathing problems, loss of balance and in some cases death can also occur.
HOW ALLERGY CAN BE DIAGNOSED?
In the first hand, allergic reactions can be diagnosed by assessing the immediate cause that started an allergic response in a particular individual. This can be done assessing the last food item that was eaten or certain type of material or animal that was contacted before the allergy symptoms appeared. A proper physical examination by the doctor is mandatory for finding the cause of allergy in the body.
Fortunately allergic problems can be diagnosed using a blood test or a skin test. For the blood test, a blood sample is checked for the occurrence of allergen mediated antibodies like IgG or IgM etc confirming the presence of allergy problems in the body.
For a skin test of allergy, a certain allergen is introduced under a person’s skin for a patch test. If his body shows continued allergic response to that allergen for a specif time then he is having an allergy to that specific allergen. Usually, all antibiotics are required to be tested for allergy in each individual before administrating for the first time. If a person shows an allergic response to that particular antibiotic then it is highly unsafe for him to be administered with that particular antibiotic because it can result in a severe form of allergy called anaphylactic shock. A study shows that the majority of antibiotics in developing countries are administered to patients without testing them for allergies in patients. This negligence has caused the deaths of thousands of people in underdeveloped parts of the world.
MAJOR TYPES OF ALLERGIES
There are many type of allergens so is the case with the allergies. A person can have one or more types of allergies at the same time. In this article we have classified allergies on the basis of their target site. Here is the brief overview of different forms of allergies:
Allergens that show their effect on skin cause skin allergies.
Skin allergies can be caused by many allergens. Major allergens that can cause skin allergies are:
- Metals and jewellery ( nickel, gold etc.)
- Topical Medication (Creams, ointments)
- Perfumes, colognes body spray
- Hair gels
- Chlorine water
- Wool, nylon and latex fabrics
- Latex condoms.
The major forms of skin allergies are discussed below:
- Contact Dermatitis is an allergic reaction that occurs as a result of immediate contact with an object (allergen). Dermatitis is often characterized by inflammation. Severe symptoms can be redness on the skin and formation of large open sores.
- Eczema is one of the most common forms of skin allergies that is very stubborn and may last for a lifetime. It is characterized by dry, inflamed, itchy and scaly skin with red patches that are sometimes painful to scratch.
- Conjunctivitis is the an inflammation in the portion of eye called “conjunctiva” that is responsible for moisturization of eyelids and eyeballs
- Psoriasis It is a very complex form of allergy in which body abnormally recognizes some portion of the skin as an allergen and initiates a immune response against it. This is characterized by painful, red and scaly patches on the skin that very itchy. Psoriasis can be also be aggravated by certain foods and medications.
2)RESPIRATORY SYSTEM ALLERGIES
A) Allergic Bronchitis
Bronchitis is the inflammation of the bronchioles that are the tubes which carry air to the lungs. Alllergicbronchitisb is usually a long term allergy and is caused by allergens present in tobacco smoke, smog, air pollutants, pollen, chemical fumes etc. Allergic bronchitis usually lasts for up to 3 months or longer.
Bronchitis is characterised by excessive mucus production in the bronchial tubes that block the air passage and cause difficulty in breathing, chest congestion, coughing, sneezing, fatigue and wheezing sounds while breathing.
Asthma is the most common form of respiration related allergies. It is characterized by inflammation in the alveoli or lung cells. This inflammation results in the narrowing of the lung’s airways and also cause narrowing of the bronchi or air pipes. Asthma can be caused by many factors like air pollutants, extreme weather, seasonal changes, airborne chemicals, pollens, tight spaces, poor ventilation, certain fragrances etc.
Asthma is characterized by tightness in the chest, breathing problems, rhinitis, sneezing and coughing.
(Inflammation of nose) is caused by airborne particles and other environmental factors. It is characterized by swollen airways that restrict breathing, inflammation in the nose, sneezing, coughing accompanied by itchy eyes with excessive tearing.
3.) DIET ALLERGIES
Food or diet allergies are caused by certain types of ingredients in the meals that act as an allergen in some individuals. Major signs of food mediated allergies are nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, flushing, swelling on the face. Protein in the peanut butter is a common example of allergen for some individuals who are allergic to peanut butter. Some people are also allergic to eggs, fish and fatty foods etc.
4.) DRUG ALLERGIES
Our body is well adapted to most of the medications. However, in some people a usually harmless drug can also cause moderate to severe allergic reaction. The best example is “Anaphylactic shock” that is caused by use of certain antibiotics like sulpha drugs and penicillins. Certain herbal drugs can also cause an allergic reaction due to unknown mechanism. Ointments, creams and inhalers containing certain medicinal ingredient can also result in an allergic response in human body.
5.) INSECT ALLERGIES
Certain insects like bees, wasps, ants, mosquitoes etc contain a poisonous venom in their sting that upon injected into the skin can result in mild to severe allergic reactions like ordinary redness and itch to a severe anaphylactic shock.
6.) MATERIAL ALLERGY
Many people are allergic to certain materials like nylon, rubber gloves, synthetic fibre, nickel and gold (used in jewellery) etc. This type of allergy is called material or substance-related allergy. The main allergen, in this case, is that particular material.
TREATMENTS OF ALLERGIES
The most ideal way of overcoming any type of allergy is to avoid the contact of that particular allergen that is the cause of a specific type of allergy.
1.) ALLERGY MEDICATIONS
A physician may recommend medications for allergies based on the cause and severity of the symptoms. In general cases, allergic medications are available on the prescription of qualified health care professional. Some allergy medicines include:
A) Histamine Blockers
These drugs are intended to block the H1 and H2 receptors that are actually histamine receptors. Histamine is a major molecule produced as a result of exposure to an allergen. Histamine blockers inhibit the effects of histamine. These medicines include diphenhydramine (Benadryl), loratadine (Claritin), chlorpheniramine (bio-cough) etc. Antihistamines are available in the form of eye drops, nasal drops and oral tablets.
These are prescription-only drugs and should be used only by the instructions of a qualified doctor.
C) Bronchodilators for Bronchitis
Bronchodilators decongest muscles around the bronchioli to provide enough passage for air to pass easily.
Inhalers are available fro bronchitis treatment and they contain short-acting and long-acting bronchodilators like Ipratropium andFormoterol respectively.
D) Asthma Inhalers
These are fast-acting medications in the form of inhalers that contain corticosteroids that dilates the bronchi walls and improving air passage through the lungs. Some inhalers also contain antimuscarinic medications. Asthma oral therapy includes anti leukotriene medications such as theophylline.
E) Eczema Treatment
Treatment includes daily moisturization, oral antihistamines and ointments containing topical corticosteroids.
F) Anaphylactic Shock Treatment
The most severe form of allergy is treated with “Epinephrine” that is the single medication for the treatment of anaphylaxis. Epinephrine is used in anaphylactic patients via the intramuscular route. Its target of injection is thigh region. Usually, it requires more than one dose of epinephrine to treat extreme anaphylaxis. People who are prone to allergies should carry one or two doses of epinephrine with them that come in the form of the auto-injector. Anaphylactic shocks are less likely to occur if one has a proper test of his allergic conditions. One must report to emergency departments or services about the condition of the patient having an anaphylaxis reaction for proper management.
G) Food allergies Treatment
Food mediated allergies are currently having no specific treatments other than avoiding allergen food ingredients in the diet.
Immunotherapy is one of the effective treatment procedures for allergy management. It is also known as “allergy shots”. Immunotherapy is most effective for asthma and atmosphere related allergies. Eczema is also responsive to immunotherapy. Allergy shots are the injections that should be prescribed and administered only in a clinical setting by a health care professional. Allergy shots are also proved to help with severe anaphylactic shocks.
Immunotherapy by allergy shots decreases the level of sensitivity of the body to allergens like pets, dust mites, moulds, fungus, spores and pollen grains. Allergy shots are a good measure to prevent seasonal allergies aswell hence curing the allergic response such as rhinitis before its onset. EpiPen and Twinject are common epinephrine brands.
NATURAL TREATMENTS FOR ALLERGIES :
Although herbal remedies for allergy have no solid background for treatment of allergies, some natural products are aimed to provide relief from the majority of allergic symptoms in a gentle manner. Some people can get their symptoms even worse by the use of natural supplements for allergy treatment so one must consult his physician before adopting any natural remedies other than his regular medications. Vitamin C, honey, peppermint oil, eucalyptus oil, spirulina probiotics and bromelain are known to prevent allergic reactions to some extent. Some herbal extracts are available aimed for providing symptomatic relief from allergy. Some people believe that salt lamp’s rays can help with the symptoms of asthma hut it has no scientific evidence.
Acupuncture is one of the alternative medicines that is being used for the treatment of various illnesses including asthma and other skin allergies. It is believed that acupuncture purified the blood and decreases the number of allergens in the body. This process involves injecting small very fine needles into the skin.
PRECAUTIONS FOR ALLERGY PREVENTION :
- Avoid contact with allergens as far as you can because it is the best way to prevent allergy onset
- Protect yourself from environmental allergens and airborne dust particles loaded with pollens, moulds etc.
- Try to stay indoors if there is a particular season that causes aggravation of your symptoms
- Use air conditioning and allow only clean air inside your house to filter pollens. HEPA filters can also be used.
- Use facial masks when outdoors.
- Always carry your medicated inhalers with you and in case of an asthma attack, immediately administer inhaler to avoid complications.
- Avoid foods that trigger the symptoms of your allergic conditions too acutely.
- Adjust the humidity levels in your place by using dehumidifiers because of high humidity levels affect asthma and worsen the symptoms.