One day, you're fine, and the next day, you can't breathe because your throat feels like it's closing in on itself. Sound familiar? You may have allergies — they occur when your immune system reacts to foreign substances such as pollen, bee venom or pet dander or food that doesn't typically affect other people with similar diets. The symptoms are generally clear-cut — wheezing, swelling, congestion and itching — but how you get them varies from person to person and also among different allergies themselves.
HOW DO ALLERGIES AFFECT MY HEALTH?
It’s estimated that millions of people suffer from an allergy each year. While it is typically considered a nuisance, allergies can often lead to more serious complications. In fact, in some cases, allergies can be life-threatening. That’s why it’s important to know what causes them — and how you can help protect yourself and your family from these problems. Triggers cause certain cells in our bodies (such as mast cells) to release histamine. This chemical then acts on blood vessels and airways, which leads to inflammation throughout our body — including our nose, throat, and lungs.
WHAT ARE THE COMMON TYPES OF ALLERGIES?
Allergic reactions may be caused by one of eight types of allergens that trigger your immune system's defense system. Six are environmental, and two are food-related. The most common environmental allergens — dust mites, mold, pet dander and pollen — cause hay fever, with sneezing, a runny nose and itchy eyes. Food allergies are triggered by proteins in foods such as peanuts, shellfish or eggs. If you have an allergy to these foods, eating them can lead to a rapid drop in blood pressure (anaphylaxis), which can result in fainting or even death if not treated immediately. Food allergies are relatively rare; about 2 percent of adults and 8 percent of children have them.
HOW ARE ALLERGIES DIAGNOSED AND TREATED?
Different types of allergies are diagnosed in different ways. For food allergies, you may be given a skin or blood test to determine if your immune system is fighting back against certain foods. Treatment for allergies is also dependent on which type you have. In general, your symptoms can be controlled by taking over-the-counter medications and avoiding known triggers.
CAN ALLERGIES BE PREVENTED?
To an extent, yes. The first step to avoiding allergies is to become as knowledgeable about your allergies as possible. Allergic people are often allergic to a combination of things – but if you can understand what you’re allergic to, then you can work on keeping these substances away from yourself.
Through our immune system, we’re designed to protect ourselves from foreign pathogens. When our body can’t tell between what is a threat and what isn’t, allergies can be developed. Allergic reactions are triggered by an overactive immune system in response to certain substances that are harmless for most people. These substances are called allergens, and they trigger an inflammatory response when introduced into your body. The severity of your allergic reaction depends on how sensitive you are to a particular allergen. Allergic reactions vary widely in their symptoms; some common symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes or skin rash.
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