Allergies can cause symptoms that we've all seen before: sneezing, a stuffy nose, itchy throat, and watery eyes. Sometimes it can be difficult to determine the exact cause of your allergies, and even if you do identify it, treatment can be a real challenge. Read on to learn more about allergies and what you can do to manage them.
What Are Allergies?
Allergies are your body's immune system responding to a foreign substance. Sometimes these foreign substances can be harmful, but often the the foreign substance is something that isn't harmful, like pollen, pet dander, or certain foods, and your body overreacts. These foreign substances are referred to as allergens.
When your immune system reacts to an allergen, it's attempting to keep you from harm. Common immune system reactions include sneezing, inflammation, and a range of other symptoms.
Common Causes of Allergies
Scientists aren't 100 percent certain exactly why some people's immune systems respond with an allergic reaction to an otherwise harmless allergen. However, general susceptibility to allergies, but not specific allergies, can be passed down from a parent to a child. Some of the most common allergens can include:
- Pet dander
- Pollen from weeds, trees, and grass
- Medication or drugs such as Penicillin
- Foods, such as shellfish, nuts, wheat, or eggs
- Insect stings from wasps, bees, hornets, or mosquitoes
- Materials such as latex or some metals
Symptoms of allergies can vary based on the specific allergen, how you come into contact with it, and how severe your body responds.
Food allergies can usually trigger symptoms like fatigue, swelling, hives, or nausea. If you experience a severe reaction after a meal, seek medical attention immediately. Seasonal allergies, such as from hay fever or pollen typically trigger symptoms similar to a cold such as a runny nose, sneezing, and swollen eyes. Allergens that come into contact with your skin can cause symptoms such as rashes, itching, and burning.
Severe allergic reactions can cause a condition known as anaphylaxis, which can be life threatening due to causing breathing difficulties and potentially a loss of consciousness.
The first step in managing your allergies is determining what your specific allergen is. Your doctor can determine your specific allergens in various ways. First, they'll usually ask about anything unusual you may have eaten or come into contact with. Beyond questioning, a skin test, or a blood test, can be used to diagnose allergens.
Once the specific allergen is determined, a plan to prevent symptoms can be made. Avoidance of the allergen is the most effective method of not suffering from allergies, but sometimes that's not always possible, such as with seasonal allergies. For some people, over-the-counter medication can be enough to handle mild allergies. For others with severe allergies, a plan of action for if you do have an allergic reaction should be considered.