Allergy Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Allergy FAQ
What is allergy?

An allergy is an abnormally high sensitivity to a certain substance, such as dust, pollens, foods, or drugs. Symptoms of allergies commonly include inflammation, sneezing, itching, and skin rashes.

What causes allergy?

An allergic reaction occurs when your immune system reacts to a foreign substance from the outside world. These foreign substances, normally small proteins, can come from dust mite feces, pollens, molds, and many other natural and man-made objects. When your immune system mistakes these normally harmless foreign substances as dangerous invaders and sends out antibodies to attack them, then the foreign substances are referred to as "allergens," and you will experience the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

What are the most common allergens?

The most common allergens include dust mites, molds, pollens, animal dander, cockroaches, peanuts, milk, eggs, latex, and penicillin. The dust mite is the most common cause of allergies.

How are allergies diagnosed?

An allergist or immunologist can diagnose your allergies using allergy skin tests, which show if your immune system reacts to specific allergens. You can also test your reactivity to common allergens using a home allergy test.

What are the most common allergic diseases?

The most common allergic diseases are allergic rhinitis (hay fever), asthma, allergic dermatitis (eczema), contact dermatitis, food allergy, and urticaria (hives). Allergic disease can be classified by the type of allergen (i.e., food allergy) or by the part of the body that is affected. For example, if allergic symptoms appear in your nose, you are said to have allergic rhinitis. If allergic symptoms appear in your lungs, then you have asthma.

How are allergies treated?

Allergies can be treated with medicine that alleviates symptoms or immunotherapy (allergy shots) that desensitize the patient to specific allergens with weekly shots over several years. However, the best method of treating allergies is allergen avoidance. If you're allergic to dust mites, for instance, your most effective path to wellness would be to eliminate the dust mites from your home.

How many people have allergies?

Over 50 million Americans suffer from allergies, and approximately 55 percent of all U.S. citizens test positive to one or more allergens.

Are allergies inherited?

There is a genetic factor in the development of allergic disease. If one parent has allergic disease, the estimated risk of a child to develop allergies is 48%; the childs estimated risk grows to 70% if both parents have a history of allergies.

Why is allergic disease increasing?

The genetic factor does not explain why the incidence of allergy and asthma is rapidly increasing in the modern world. There are two main theories about why allergic disease is growing. One theory blames our increasing immune system sensitivity on the abundance of synthetic chemicals in our modern world. Another theory, known as the hygiene hypothesis, posits that the human immune system is becoming more reactive to allergens because of modern hygiene and healthcare. Our immune system is designed to fight off viruses, bacteria, parasites, and other microbes; however, with modern hygiene, sanitation, vaccines, antibiotics, and healthcare, our immune system does not have many invaders to fight off, and so its attention and energy is re-directed to normally harmless foreign substances.

What is allergy season?

People with seasonal allergic rhinitis (hay fever) only experience symptoms during the time of year when certain allergens are in the air outdoors. When most people talk about allergy season, they're referring to springtime, when plants bloom and tree pollen counts soar. However, summer is the season for grass and weed pollen allergies, and autumn is the time for ragweed and mold allergies. Perennial allergies, or year-round allergies, are typically caused by indoor allergies to dust mites, mold, cockroaches, and pet dander.

Can a person outgrow an allergy?

It normally works the other way around. People normally grow into allergies, but some children outgrow food allergies after long periods of avoiding the allergen, and up to half of young children outgrow their asthma, but many find that the symptoms return later in life.

Can an adult develop allergies later in life?

Allergic reactions can develop at any age, no matter how old you are. If your total allergen load reaches its maximum point, then you will develop allergies. The peak age of allergy development, however, appears to be in the late teens.

What are the dangers of allergic reactions?

Anaphylaxis is a severe, potentially fatal allergic reaction. It's difficult to precisely report how many people die from anaphylaxis because the cause of death may often appear to be a heart attack. Fatal anaphylaxis normally occurs because of extreme allergic reactions to foods such as shellfish, cod, or peanuts, or to the venom of stinging insects like wasps or fire ants. Approximately 100 Americans die annually from anaphylaxis induced by stinging insects. Penicillin is the most common culprit in death from drug allergy. Anaphylactic reactions to penicillin cause approximately 400 deaths a year.

Besides potential death, there are other long-term dangers of allergies. Repeated allergic reactions in certain areas of the body can result in damaged organs. Asthma, for example, can lead to irreversible emphysema.

What kind of foods can cause allergic reactions?

The most common foods behind allergic reactions include nuts, peanuts, milk, egg, wheat, and soy bean proteins. Some food preservatives, such as metabisulfate and monosodium glutamate (MSG), can also cause allergic reactions. Metabisulfate is in most wines that need preserving, and although MSG is normally associated with Chinese food, it is present in a high percentage of processed foods and often listed on the label by another name such as glutamic acid, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, or yeast extract.

What is the best treatment for allergies?

Allergen avoidance is the best treatment for any allergic disease. Avoid the allergen, and you'll avoid the allergic reaction. Diagnosis and education are crucial steps in allergen avoidance. Educated allergy and asthma sufferers fare much better than those who do not understand their disease.

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