In this article:
- The word “allergy” came from two Greek words that mean “altered reactivity.” During an allergy, the immune system responds aggressively to a substance that is otherwise harmless.
- Most allergies are incurable and can only be managed by avoiding the allergen, taking anti-allergen drugs, or getting allergy shots (immunotherapy).
- Allergy figures sixth on the list of chronic ailments that are currently plaguing the U.S. population across all ages.
- Pregnant women and children are increasingly prone to allergic attacks.
- Although allergies are relatively common and can easily be managed through preventative techniques and standard meds, they can take a life-threatening turn in the form of anaphylaxis, which warrants immediate medical help.
An allergy is an immunogenic response of the body to an otherwise harmless substance that is mistakenly perceived as a pathogenic invader or health threat.
The inhalation or ingestion of such a substance raises a false alarm inside the body, which then prompts the immune system to spring into action and put its guard up.
For example, in the case of pollen allergy, a person’s immune system mistakenly identifies the pollen as a harmful substance that is invading the body.
The immune system then starts releasing chemicals to defeat or destroy the invader. These chemicals can cause symptoms in the skin, ears, throat, eyes, nose, mouth, or lungs.
The substances that induce such adverse reactions in allergic individuals are known as allergens or triggers.
The genetic tendency to have allergic reactions is called atopy. Coming in contact with triggers or allergens prompts a reaction from the immune system that causes allergic inflammation. As a result, the following happens:
- Hives, swelling, or eczema are due to a reaction in the skin.
- Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) and conjunctivitis are due to a reaction in the nose and/or eyes.
- Asthma is due to a reaction in the lungs.
What Happens During an Allergy?
When the body comes in contact with an allergic substance, the immune system reacts by releasing IgE antibodies to combat the trigger. These antibodies, in turn, stimulate some of the cells to release chemicals, such as histamine, into the bloodstream.
It is this histamine that causes allergic symptoms in the skin, nose, lungs, eyes, gastrointestinal tract, or throat. The body will undergo a similar reaction every time it is exposed to a trigger or allergen.
Types of Allergic Reactions
The onset of an allergic reaction can vary depending upon the person’s genes and part of the body affected.
a. Immediate Allergic Reactions
If the allergy symptoms appear within minutes of exposure to the trigger, it is referred to as an immediate allergic reaction.
b. Delayed or Late-Phase Allergic Reactions
Sometimes the body may not react instantaneously to an allergen and take anywhere from 2 to 6 hours or even longer to mount a counterattack.
As a result, the symptoms will begin to show only a few hours after initial contact with the allergen. This is known as a delayed or late-phase allergic reaction.
The symptoms of delayed reactions are mostly similar to those experienced in an immediate allergic reaction.
Signs and Symptoms of an Allergy
An allergic reaction can manifest differently in different people, depending upon the trigger and the mode of contact with the trigger. That said, some allergy symptoms are more commonly reported than others. These symptoms include:
- Allergic rhinitis, which manifests as a blocked or runny nose accompanied by itchiness in the nose and sneezing
- Conjunctivitis, which causes watery eyes with itchiness and redness
- Cough accompanied by shortness of breath, chest tightness, and wheezing
- Hives, which causes a red rash on the skin that is itchy and raised
- Swelling in the eyes, face, tongue, or lips
- Diarrhea, tummy ache, nausea, or vomiting
- Cracked skin that is red and dry
What Causes Allergies?
Allergic tendencies are usually passed down across generations and are therefore hereditary.
However, one will inherit only the likelihood to develop an allergy, not the allergy itself. In other words, it is not the particular allergy that is passed down, but the tendency to develop an allergic reaction that gets genetically transferred from parents to children.
What is an Anaphylactic Shock?
Anaphylaxis, or anaphylactic shock, is a potentially fatal form of allergic response wherein your entire body reacts to the allergen, causing inflammation in different parts of the body.
Once the inflammation reaches the respiratory system, your respiratory passages may swell, resulting in shortness of breath and difficulty in breathing. This kind of extreme reaction is usually accompanied by a sudden drop in blood pressure, along with other dangerous symptoms that can vary in severity.
Anaphylaxis can manifest differently in different people, but some of the most commonly reported symptoms include:
- Wheezing or tightness in the chest along with coughing and difficulty in breathing
- Weakened heartbeat, fainting spell, dizziness
- Having trouble swallowing due to the swollen throat or mouth tissues
- Feeling overly warm, having hives or itchiness, flushing
- Stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting
Most Common Allergy Triggers and Prevention
Below are some common allergy triggers.
Pollen is a very fine dust-like substance that is shed by trees, grass, and weeds and is released into the surrounding atmosphere.
If someone who is allergic to pollen inhales or ingests it, the body responds to the perceived threat with an immunogenic response.
The body releases chemicals to fight what it considers a foreign invader, resulting in cold-like symptoms. This type of allergic response triggered by pollen is often referred to as hay fever or allergic rhinitis.
Pollen allergies are extremely common but are usually seasonal. Different kinds of pollen grains enter the air at different times of the year.
For instance, tree pollen is mostly shed during early spring (March to June), grass pollen enters the air toward the end of spring season (April to September), weed pollen takes over during summer (July to August), and the months after it is dominated by ragweed pollen (late August to beginning of winter).
People who are allergic to a specific type of pollen may not have the same reaction as others, and so allergy season can vary from person to person.
Climactic conditions also have a bearing on the spread of pollen, which can alert you to take precautions. Since pollen is extremely lightweight and travels through air, wind can be a major concern.
The windier the weather becomes, the farther the pollen spreads, and the higher is its concentration in the air.
Rain, on the other hand, can wash down airborne pollen to the earth, reducing its chance of getting inhaled. The reduced concentration of pollen in the air leads to a reduced incidence of allergic episodes and relatively milder symptoms.
However, stormy rainfall is an exception. In this weather condition, the sheer force of the wind overpowers the dampening effect of the rain. The result is more frequent allergies and severe symptoms.
Seasonal allergies and asthma are often co-occurring since the same substance that triggers an allergic response in the body can also aggravate asthma.
Together, these two conditions account for a significant portion of the global health burden. Nearly 10%-30% of the global population suffers from hay fever (allergic rhinitis), and approximately 300 million people around the world are known to be asthmatic.
In the United States, pollen figures among the top allergy triggers, and there is reason to believe that the incidence of hay fever is on the rise globally, especially in the urban areas. This kind of allergic reaction is usually characterized by cough, congestion in the nasal passages, red and watery eyes, and runny nose. (1)
According to a 2018 study, certain chemical pollutants that are inhaled along with the pollen can exacerbate an allergic reaction. The chemical compounds adversely interact with the inhaled pollen, causing damage to the pollen’s cell wall and thereby enhancing the release of allergens. (2)
Follow these tips during allergy season to prevent getting an allergic reaction:
- Try to stay indoors during allergy season when the pollen count is high, especially if it is hot and windy outside.
- To limit the entry of pollen inside your home, keep the windows and doors shut. Use an air conditioner equipped with air filters that keep the pollens from getting in, while making your living space cool and comfortable.
- If being outdoors is unavoidable, wear protective gear such as sunglasses to protect your eyes and a mask to filter out the pollen.
Since pollen grains can get stuck on your clothing and end up in your home, change out of the clothes you wore outside as soon as you get back home.
2. Animal Dander
Pets are quite common in many households. According to the American Pets Products Association, almost 65% of American houses are home to pets.
For all its merits, owning a pet has its fair share of problems for those unfortunate animal lovers who are allergic to dander. Animal dander is tiny flakes of dead skin shed from the skin or hair of furry animals, such as cats, dogs, rodents, and birds, among others. (4)
In addition to these microscopic skin particles, the animal’s urine, feces, and saliva also contain certain proteins that can trigger an allergic reaction in humans.
People who are allergic to animals usually experience itchiness in the eyes, nasal discharge, and a skin rash when exposed to allergens from animals.
Moreover, people with pre-existing inflammatory conditions, such as asthma, rhinitis, and/or eczema (atopic dermatitis), may suffer a worsening of their symptoms.
A 2014 review found that domestic, farm and laboratory animals are major sources of allergens that can cause sensitization and allergic diseases. The study suggested the identification of common sites where one can get exposed to these allergens so that they can be avoided. (3)
The study also summarized various other relevant factors that influence allergen levels in the environment and can increase one’s risk of exposure. (3)
If you are allergic to animal dander, you can still keep a pet, so long as you are willing to put in some extra work. The best way to manage your allergy is to minimize the amount of animal dander in the house. To do so, adopt the following measures:
- Give your pet regular baths to wash off the dander and keep it from contaminating your living space.
- Don’t allow pets into your bedroom or on furniture.
- Regularly change and wash your bedding to get rid of any dander. You cannot keep the pet from shedding dander, but you can reduce its presence indoors by frequently vacuuming the floor and furniture.
Since mold can grow anywhere where moisture is present and is often invisible to the naked eye, people allergic to this fungus can have a tough time avoiding it. There are approximately 1000 species of mold found in the United States alone.
From your bathroom and basement to your backyard, you can find traces of mold in any place or any surface that tends to remain damp. It is when these minuscule, lightweight spores of mold start traveling through air that they become a major allergic threat.
You can end up inhaling or ingesting these airborne spores without even realizing it and subsequently suffer allergy symptoms, such as itching, coughing, a runny nose, eye irritation, sneezing, congestion, postnasal drip, and an asthma attack.
A 2015 study stated that the incidence of mold allergy is largely under-reported, which is why it usually does not get the attention and care it deserves. This is because people allergic to mold are often sensitized to other allergens that they have been previously exposed to and may already have IgE antibodies against them. (5)
The presence of these antibodies camouflages the symptoms of mold allergy. So, when you experience an allergic reaction, you cannot know for sure what is causing your symptoms.
You need to know what you are allergic to in order to eliminate the allergen source. Unless you know it is a mold that is giving you symptoms, you will not be able to treat the allergy properly. This makes it especially important to consult an allergist in order to pin the exact allergen source and, thereafter be given the appropriate treatment. (5)
A poorly ventilated and humid environment is conducive to the growth of mold. Thus, people who are allergic to it should take the necessary precautions to keep their house mold-free. The following measures can help:
- Mold is more likely to grow in areas of the house that usually remain damp, particularly the bathroom, kitchen, and basement. Since you frequent these areas quite often, the risk of exposure is also greater.
Properly ventilate these areas to dry them out, and regularly clean them to help eliminate any existing mold spores and keep new ones from developing.
- Switch on the exhaust fan while taking a shower to drive out the moisture from the bathroom.
- If an area in the house smells musty and feels humid, then use a dehumidifier to suck out the moisture from the air. Make sure the filters and coils of the dehumidifier are regularly cleaned.
- Leaky pipes or roof shingles can add to the humidity and should be promptly fixed to prevent mold growth.
- The drainage area around the house should be cleared regularly.
- Remove damp firewood or moldy leaves from the backyard as they can be breeding grounds for mold.
- If you suspect the presence of mold at your home or workplace, have the space professionally inspected and take the necessary action to get it properly cleaned if needed.
4. House Dust Mites
You share your dwellings with countless microscopic pests that live in house dust and feed on dead skin cells that are regularly shed by humans or pets.
These insect-like microorganisms called house dust mites are recognized as one of the major environmental allergens that can trigger or worsen your allergies and asthma all year round.
Dust mites can survive in almost any climate or altitude, but they flourish, particularly in the warm, moist confines of your home where they have a regular supply of dead skin cells.
The dead skin shed by a single person in a day is enough to sustain millions of dust mites, which points to their overwhelming presence inside your home and workspace.
These bugs can cause an allergic reaction either through their waste or through their body parts that remain in the environment long after they die. They can become deeply embedded into the fabric surfaces of your home, such as your bedding, carpeting, upholstery, curtains, and mattresses.
The widespread prevalence of dust mite allergies can be gauged from the fact that nearly 40% of the global population is afflicted by it. According to the estimates of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, almost 20 million people have been diagnosed with this allergy in the United States alone. (6)
Multiple species of dust mite cohabitate with you in your living environment, and the prevalence of dust mite allergies varies depending on the age group. (6)
Dust mite allergies usually manifest with the following symptoms:
- Watery and red eyes
- Runny nose
- Nasal congestion
- Itchy nose
- Mucus draining from the back of your nose into the throat, known as postnasal drip
- Skin itchiness
- Itch in the throat or mouth
- Tightness or pain in the chest
- Shortness of breath and labored breathing
It is impossible to eliminate all the dust mites from your home or office, but you can minimize their presence by adopting the following precautionary measures:
- Avoid carpeting, especially in the bedroom, as it invites more dust mites. Opt for a wooden, ceramic, marble, or any non-carpet flooring alternative.
- Regularly and thoroughly clean the house to clear out the mites, preferably using a central vacuum or a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter.
- Cover your nose and mouth with an N95 mask during house cleaning sessions as vacuuming, dusting, or sweeping can suspend a lot of dust in the air.
- If possible, cleaning should be done in the absence of the allergic individual since the dust in the air increases the risk of an allergic reaction.
- Cleaning the bedroom at night can also release dust into the air, which takes at least 2 hours to settle down. Thus, do not clean your bedroom too close to your bedtime.
- Change your bed linens regularly, and wash the used ones in hot water to kill any dust mites present on it.
- Cover your mattress and pillows in mite-proof cases.
- Install a HEPA air cleaner in the bedroom and keep it running to filter out mites.
You can have an allergic reaction to something you ate, which is known as a food allergy. This happens not because the dietary substance itself is questionable or harmful, but because your body confuses it to be so.
In other words, the body becomes oversensitive to something in the food that is otherwise harmless, mistaking it for a pathogenic agent or foreign threat.
When such food substances enter the body, the immune system springs into action to fight the invader. This counterattack is characterized by the release of chemicals inside the body that causes allergy symptoms.
Around 15 million people suffer from food allergies in America, according to the Food Allergy Research and Education organization. (19)
Virtually any food can cause an allergic reaction, but people tend to be more sensitive to certain foods than others. Moreover, it is usually the protein content of the food that triggers the reaction, such as lactose and gluten.
The following dietary items are some of the major sources of food allergies in children:
- Tree nuts
- Cow’s milk
Food allergies usually bring about the following symptoms:
- Tingling in mouth
- Swollen tongue, lips, or eyelids
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Shortness of breath
A 2015 review article differentiated between food allergy and food intolerance and highlighted the more grievous nature of the former as opposed to the latter. Food allergies are not only more common than food intolerances, but they are also far more severe and can even be life-threatening. (9)
Food intolerance, on the other hand, only results in digestive distress. Thus, the same treatment and management techniques will not apply to both these conditions. (9)
A 2019 study proposed biologics as a safe and effective therapeutic intervention to build one’s immune tolerance for food antigens as it showed promising results in immunotherapy clinical trials. (10)
Prevent food allergies from occurring by following these tips:
- The first step toward preventing food allergies is avoiding the food that causes the allergic reaction. Even a minimal intake of the offending food can trigger a full-blown allergic reaction. Better yet, cut it out completely from your diet.
- Always check the ingredients when shopping for food or ordering food to make sure it does not contain anything that you might be allergic to.
- If you have a known food allergy, always carry epinephrine for emergencies. Since you cannot always preempt an allergic reaction, it is best to be prepared at all times.
6. Insects and Insect Sting
The usual effects of an insect sting to a person are swelling, itching, and redness. For people who are allergic to such stings, a severe reaction occurs as their immune system will react more aggressively to the venom released from the sting.
The allergic reactions brought on by insect bites often qualify as a medical emergency and warrant a visit to the hospital or urgent care clinic.
Nearly 0.4%-0.8% of children and 3% of adults with insect allergies experience potentially life-threatening symptoms. Not just that, as many as 90-100 people succumb to anaphylaxis induced by insect sting every year.
The first time a person with an insect allergy gets stung, the venom enters the body and prompts the immune system to produce antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE).
The next time the person gets stung by the same insect, the freshly introduced venom interacts with the previously released IgE antibodies, triggering a major immune response wherein an inflammatory chemical called histamine is released in the body.
The result is the appearance of a variety of symptoms, which can range from mild to severe. The characteristic symptoms of an insect allergy include:
- Mild to moderate reactions – Fatigue, nausea, a slight increase in temperature, redness, and swelling.
- Severe reactions – Hives; swelling in the throat, mouth, and face; increased pulse rate; difficulty in breathing; and a drop in blood pressure. A severe reaction requires immediate medical attention.
Wasps, honeybees, hornets, yellow jackets, and fire ants together account for the majority of insect stings reported in the United States.
The imported red or black fire ant is yet another source of insect stings that have emerged as no less than a health hazard, particularly in the southern states of the United States, where it infests over 260 million acres of land.
Severe reactions can result from insect stings. Anaphylaxis resulting from wasp or bees stings is common and requires specific immunotherapy to prevent further severe reactions. (11)
Immediate diagnosis and treatment of sting reactions are crucial to reduce the risk of further reactions. (12)
The following measures can be taken to avoid the potentially fatal effect of an insect sting reaction:
- Stay away from areas that are known to be infested by insects.
- Insects like yellow jackets tend to feed on discarded, rotten food and garbage. So, keep your surroundings clean by regularly taking out the garbage and generally staying away from such feeding grounds.
- Perfumes lure honeybees, so avoid wearing a strong-smelling scent when going out.
- When venturing outdoors, consider wearing protective clothing and footwear to cover up exposed skin as much as possible.
- Get evaluated by a doctor who can perform testing and prescribe allergy shots if appropriate.
- If you have had a previous severe allergic reaction to an insect sting, carry epinephrine at all times to treat anaphylaxis.
b. Insects (Cockroaches)
Cockroaches contain a specific protein in their waste, saliva, and body parts that can trigger an allergic reaction if inhaled.
Since cockroaches are found all over the world and are the most common indoor pests that live with you in your homes and workplace, they are recognized as one of the biggest culprits for allergic reactions.
Approximately 40%-60% of people who have asthma, both in urban areas and inner-city areas, have the IgE antibodies to cockroach allergens. (7)
The usual symptoms of a cockroach allergy are:
- Skin rashes
- Sinus infection
- Ear infection
- Congestion in the nasal passage
The symptoms caused by cockroach allergens often last longer than those caused by seasonal allergies.
A 2017 review observed a strong link between cockroach allergy and asthma, particularly in children and young adults residing in inner-city localities. This finding essentially means that a person with asthma is more likely allergic to cockroach as well than those who do not have asthma. (8)
Moreover, exposure to the allergen released by cockroaches can worsen asthma symptoms and can make the condition increasingly difficult to manage. In such a case, immunotherapy may be recommended to gradually desensitize the patient’s immune reaction to the allergen. (8)
Steer clear of an allergic reaction to cockroaches through these measures:
- You can drive out cockroaches from your home by using pest control or hiring pest control professionals to do the job. If you are planning to get your home sprayed with pesticides, make sure that anyone with asthma is out of the house.
- Other pest control options to eliminate cockroaches include boric acid, traps, or poison baits, but do not use these poisonous chemicals if there are small children or pets in the house.
- Cockroaches feed on filth and garbage, so make sure to clear your trash every day.
- You may consult your doctor about getting allergy shots.
Latex is a milky fluid obtained from various kinds of seed plants, particularly from rubber trees. This substance is aqueous inside the tree but coagulates into a malleable mass when exposed to air.
Latex is the chief component of rubber and is found in a whole range of everyday products, such as rubber gloves, toys, tires, shoe soles, condoms, balloons, rubber bands, bandages, and paint.
Its utilitarian advantages aside, this natural rubber contains certain proteins that can trigger an allergic reaction in some people, either by skin contact or by inhaling latex particles.
An allergic reaction to latex can give rise to the following symptoms, often within minutes of exposure to the allergen:
- Hives or skin rashes
- Scratchy throat
- Skin redness
- Watery eyes
- Skin itchiness
- Runny nose
A 2012 research emphasized the need for awareness about latex allergy, its sources, its symptoms, and the proper guidelines to care for those struggling with it. (13)
It is essential to understand the problem first before it can be treated appropriately. To that end, everyone – from healthcare professionals and the community to the patients and their families – needs to learn about this condition and how to address it. (13)
Considering the almost ubiquitous use of latex and latex-based products, there is a dire need to look for or develop safer substitutes for this common allergen. Moreover, a system should be in place to identify and tag latex-containing products so that those allergic to this substance can easily avoid such products. (14)
To prevent latex allergy, you must first educate yourself about what it is and how to deal with its symptoms, for which you need to seek the help of an allergist.
Anyone who suspects having a latex allergy should first consult an allergist to figure out if he/she is sensitive to latex (natural) itself or to other chemicals that may be present in synthetic rubbers.
Once you are certain about the source of your allergy, you must inform your physician and dentist about your condition so that they can refrain from using rubber products when examining or treating you.
Because latex is extensively used in the manufacture of household items, avoiding this material can be very difficult. Your best move is to search for safer alternatives to latex products to minimize the risk of exposure.
From cosmetics, skin or haircare essentials, candles, and cleaning products to pharmaceutical products and occupational substances, almost everything contains added fragrances that can trigger allergy-like symptoms in some people.
These scented substances are essentially synthetic chemicals that do not work along the same line as other allergens as they do not trigger the release of antibodies in the body.
The symptoms of fragrance sensitivity are usually a result of irritation to the synthetic chemicals, not an immune response.
Besides direct exposure, these fragrances can get transferred to your skin through close contact with others or even through aerial transmission. (15)
According to a 2015 review, certain scented substances can render your skin increasingly sensitive and irritated after prolonged exposure. Such an effect may even pave the way for allergic contact dermatitis (ACD). Also, breathing in these relatively volatile fumes can either induce an allergic sensitization or elicit an allergic response. (16)
Fragrance is one of the most commonly reported triggers of allergic reactions, particularly among people with pre-existing inflammatory skin conditions, such as contact dermatitis.
As published in Dermatology Times, fragrance sensitivity is the top contributing factor to allergic contact dermatitis. In nearly 30%-45% of all cases wherein a cosmetic product triggers an adverse skin reaction, the fragrance is to blame.
Fragrance sensitivity can cause a range of symptoms, which include:
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Inability to concentrate
In most cases, these symptoms tend to subside once you distance yourself from the source of the smell.
People who have a fragrance allergy usually have to live with this problem, as there is no way to overcome it completely. If anything, you only become more vulnerable with repeated exposure as the symptoms tend to worsen, and your sensitivity increases overtime.
The best you can do is minimize your risk of exposure by staying away from scented products. You must exercise special precautions when trying new fragrances as well. Test a small sample to see if it causes a reaction.
A possibility always exists that a drug can cause side effects and adverse reactions, which may or may not involve an underlying immunologic mechanism.
Certain medications, when administered orally, topically, or intravenously, are mistakenly identified by the body as harmful agents.
The use of such drugs triggers the immune system to launch a counter-attack against what it perceives as a threat, and the resultant reaction is known as a drug allergy.
According to the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology (BSACI), a drug allergy occurs when the immune system starts rejecting the medication and induces an adverse reaction to it.
A drug allergy can manifest different symptoms in different people, which may range from mild to severe to life-threatening.
Some people only develop a mild skin rash, others grapple with sudden and widespread body inflammation, while others experience a drastic drop in their blood pressure that can be deadly.
What makes a person allergic to specific drugs is still subject to inquiry, but experts believe that genetics may have something to do with it.
A 2011 study recognized drug allergy as a legitimate and common clinical complaint that warrants proper medical evaluation by an allergist. The allergist will review the patient’s medical history, conduct a physical examination, and, if needed, may even order certain skin tests, graded challenges, and induction of drug tolerance procedures to reach a proper diagnosis. (17)
Only when the root cause and extent of the reaction have been established will the doctor suggest the appropriate ways to manage the allergy. Management options typically involve avoiding the offending drug and substituting it with a more suitable alternative that has a different chemical structure. (17)
A person can develop an allergy to virtually any drug, but the following are some of the most commonly reported sources of drug allergies:
- Anti-inflammatory nonsteroidal drugs such as ibuprofen
- Monoclonal antibody therapy
Since you do not exercise any control over your immune system and how it will react to a drug, preventing a drug allergy is almost impossible. You can, however, manage the allergy once it has been diagnosed.
Thus, while there is nothing you can do to keep yourself from becoming allergic to a medication, you can certainly prevent allergic reactions by avoiding the medicine that you are allergic to and perhaps even those with a similar chemical composition.
Consult your doctor to seek safer substitutes for the offending drug instead.
10. Smoke (Cigarette, Barbecue, Environmental)
An allergic reaction to charcoal or wood smoke usually resolves on its own, but it can be quite deleterious for asthma patients as it can trigger a full-blown attack.
People with seasonal allergies should also steer clear of tobacco smoke, as it can trigger and exacerbate their symptoms. Breathing in this smoke, either directly or passively, can induce allergy symptoms in otherwise healthy individuals as well.
An allergic reaction to smoke can be avoided by doing the following:
- Try to avoid smoky areas the best you can, but if you must, make sure to sit against the direction of the wind so that the smoke blows away from you rather than toward you.
- Second-hand smoke could be quite harmful, so protect yourself from it as well.
- If you live in a heavily polluted area or close to an industrial plant, it will serve you well to wear an anti-pollution mask to protect yourself from the airborne allergens.
11. Metal Allergy (Nickel)
Nickel is a naturally occurring metal that is often amalgamated with other metals to make alloys that are used for manufacturing a whole range of essential items.
Stainless steel is perhaps the most well-known and widely used nickel alloy, which is made by combining nickel with iron and is a utilitarian necessity.
From jewelry to coins, so many products of everyday use are made with nickel alloys that it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to avoid this metal. But avoid you must if you have a nickel allergy since it is the only way to manage this typically lifelong condition.
People with increased sensitivity to this metal often experience allergy-like symptoms after coming in contact with it or after consuming nickel-containing foods in extreme cases.
Nickel has even been identified as one of the major triggers for allergic contact dermatitis, wherein your skin may become irritated or develop a rash upon coming in contact with the said metal. (20)(21)
If you suspect a nickel allergy, the first thing to do is to consult an allergist to rule out other potential causes for your symptoms.
Once you are certain that it is nickel that you are allergic to, you can move on to the management phase. This involves discontinuing or minimizing the use of nickel-containing products in your daily life to prevent allergic reactions in the future.
Precaution warrants the following measures:
- Carefully choose the jewelry and clothing that you buy as they often contain traces of nickel. Choose products that are devoid of this offending metal.
- Because nickel is present in all stainless-steel utensils, and several other household items that are regularly used, it is best to substitute these objects with those made from other materials.
- People who are overly sensitive to nickel are recommended not to consume nickel-containing foods to avoid potential allergic reactions.
Some General Queries
How common are skin allergies?
Skin allergies are extremely common and can manifest in different forms, which include skin swelling, hives, rashes, and eczema. Nearly 8.8 million children were diagnosed with some form of skin allergy in 2015, which points to the overwhelming prevalence of this condition. (18)
There is a whole range of triggers that can cause a skin allergy, either through contact or after ingestion. As is evident from their names, poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are well-known skin allergens.
The consumption of certain offending foods can also induce an allergic skin reaction. Similarly, people often develop skin irritation after coming in contact with pests such as cockroaches and dust mites, metals such as nickel, and latex.
Are allergies common in pregnancy?
Pregnancy renders a woman increasingly susceptible to seasonal and food allergies, and about 25% of them reportedly experience a flare-up of their symptoms during this vulnerable phase.
The expecting mother has to be extra careful about how she addresses this problem, as delayed or incorrect treatment can jeopardize not just her own health but also that of the baby.
It is, therefore important to not take your health in your hands and consult your OBGYN the minute you experience any worrying symptoms.
In mild to moderate cases, the doctor usually recommends treating allergy symptoms with natural remedies. However, if the condition is particularly severe, non-prescription antihistamines may be given.
Is it a cold or an allergy?
The symptoms of a cold and an allergic reaction can be quite similar, but these two conditions are entirely different.
While a cold is a respiratory infection caused by a virus, an allergy is an overactive response of the immune system to an otherwise harmless substance that is wrongly identified as a germ, pathogen, or some form of a foreign threat.
Unlike the common cold, which can spread easily through direct or indirect contact with the infected person, allergies are completely noncontagious.
Treatment for Allergies
By and large, allergies cannot be cured, but the symptoms can be managed. This is done primarily by staying away from the offending substance that triggers the allergic response in your body –a technique called “avoidance.”
The doctor may also prescribe certain medications or allergy shots to reduce the severity and frequency of allergy symptoms.
Some of the commonly used allergy medications include:
- Leukotriene modifiers
- Systemic and topical steroids
Allergy Shots (Immunotherapy)
The administration of allergy shots is part of immunotherapy, which is a treatment modality designed to increase your body’s tolerance for specific allergens gradually.
This treatment involves introducing small concentrations of the allergen into your body so that you become desensitized to it overtime.
The injection is administered weekly or biweekly, and the dosage of the allergen is increased slowly to further build your immunity against the allergen.
If successful, the treatment will show positive results within 6 months to 1 year as the allergy symptoms begin to subside. This therapy may even prevent future sensitization.
Bear in mind, that immunotherapy does not work against all kinds of allergens and for all people. It is usually recommended as a final recourse when avoiding allergens becomes increasingly difficult and standard allergy medications are ineffective.
Complications Associated with Allergies
Allergies, in themselves are quite distressing, also bring along the risk of other health issues:
- Asthma is a common respiratory ailment that is characterized by inflammation of the airways and excessive production of mucus, both of which constrict the passage of air and make breathing extremely difficult. Allergies and asthma often occur together and reinforce each other.
People who suffer from both these conditions simultaneously are known to have allergic asthma, wherein their asthma symptoms get aggravated after inhaling specific allergens. Thus, allergies can further complicate and exacerbate asthma and lead to more frequent or severe attacks.
- People with allergies are at an increased risk of contracting a fungal infection in their lungs or sinuses, which can pave the way for serious health complications.
This usually happens by breathing in aspergillus, a fungus that thrives on dead leaves or decaying vegetation and triggers an allergic reaction once inside the body. This condition is referred to as aspergillosis.
- Allergic asthma, or hay fever, is known to trigger inflammation in the sinuses, ears, and lungs, which makes these sites increasingly susceptible to infection.
Risk Factors for Allergies
The following factors can predispose you to develop an allergy:
- If you have compromised immunity
- If you have pre-existing asthma
- If asthma or allergies, such as eczema, hay fever, and hives, run in your family
- If you are young
When to See a Doctor
The first time you develop allergy symptoms, it can be difficult to understand what exactly is causing them. For instance, it is easy to confuse an allergic reaction with the common cold as both these conditions exhibit some common symptoms.
So, it is recommended that you get yourself evaluated by a doctor if you have the slightest inkling of an allergy. The first step in managing an allergy is to identify its cause.
Once the doctor has identified the allergens, he/she will suggest the necessary precautions to minimize your exposure to them. The doctor may also recommend certain OTC anti-allergens if he/she feels that your condition calls for it.
If the preliminary medications fail to provide relief, you must inform your doctor, who may then prescribe a more suitable alternative.
People with a history of severe allergic reactions or anaphylaxis should be extra careful since they are at an increased risk of suffering such potentially life-threatening reactions again.
In such cases, the patients are advised to work closely with their doctor to come up with a proper management plan that aims to avoid allergens and prevent future anaphylactic shocks.
If you or a person you are tending to exhibit symptoms of anaphylaxis, emergency medical assistance should be sought without delay to contain the reaction and prevent any dangerous outcomes.
What you may ask your doctor:
- What allergens are causing the allergic reaction, and how do I avoid them?
- Does this condition need medical attention? Will there be further complications because of it?
- Is this reaction hereditary? Does the environment play a role in it? Is it dependent on the season or environmental exposure?
- Are the allergies severe?
- What tests are recommended?
- What treatment options are available?
What your doctor may ask you:
- When did the symptoms begin?
- Does anyone in your family have an allergy?
- Have you undergone tests for allergies?
- What medications did you use previously and how did they work?
- Do you have pre-existing medical conditions?
- Are there any noticeable triggers to the symptoms?
- Are there any times or locations where the symptoms are worse or better?
An allergic reaction occurs when the body reacts abnormally to an otherwise normal substance that is introduced to the immune system by skin contact, ingestion, inhalation, or injection.
The reaction may cause symptoms that include runny nose, diarrhea, itchy eyes, wheezing, and rash, among others.
To manage allergies, the first step is to identify and avoid known triggers to the best of your abilities. The next steps include considering therapies such as preventative or emergency medications and allergen immunotherapy (allergy shots), if applicable.
Almost anyone can develop an allergy regardless of their age, but allergies are particularly common among children.
Although there is no permanent cure for allergies, there have been cases where the condition has resolved on its own only to resurface again years later.