Allergy
Symptoms, Causes, Related Conditions, Questions & Related Topics

Allergies May Also be Known as:

  • Hypersensitivity
  • Seasonal allergies
  • Allergic rhinitis
  • Hay fever
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Anaphylactic


Possible Symptoms of Allergies

Allergies occur when your immune system has a strong reaction to something. We call these things allergens because most people do not experience reactions to them. [1] Most allergies can be managed, but in some dire situations, a person’s allergy to something can be life-threatening when triggered.

1. Stuffy, Runny Nose

Allergies often cause a stuffy or runny nose, similar to a cold symptom. You might feel congested and sneeze frequently when you suffer from a seasonal allergy, especially when you go outside. However, with allergies, the stuffiness lasts for as long as you are exposed to the allergen, rather than just a week or two.

2. Itchy Eyes

Itchy eyes are another strong, telltale sign of seasonal allergies. [2] Some people experience coughing or fatigue, too. When you experience red, itchy, or watery eyes, allergies are usually the culprit.

3. Rashes

Rashes are usually a symptom of a food allergy, but they can occur whenever a person who is allergic to something (food, pollen, animal dander, etc.) comes into contact with that substance. [3] These rashes can be big or small and can occur anywhere on the body. Rashes caused by allergies are usually red and itchy; sometimes, welts called hives can also occur. One of the most common types of rashes associated with an allergy is eczema, which can occur all over the body and may be red, flaky, and itchy. In some cases, eczema includes bumps filled with oozing fluid.

4. Swelling

Swelling is another potential external symptom of allergies. [1] This is one of the body’s ways of alerting us that something is wrong. When swelling occurs, the body part looks larger, puffy, and/or shinier, depending on the situation. Different parts of the body can swell based on what and where the allergy is, but sometimes, it can be dangerous. For example, if the throat or tongue begin to swell after a person eats something to which they are allergic, it could make it harder to swallow or even breathe.

5. Breathing Problems

A person’s airways can close up if they are extremely allergic to something such as a type of food, a sting from a specific insect, or a medication. [1] Asthma can be a potential symptom of allergies, and sometimes, a person can stop breathing altogether as a result of an allergic reaction. This can become severe enough in some individuals to be life-threatening.

6. Anaphylaxis

This is a serious medical issue and the worst possible side effect of an allergic reaction. Its symptoms are anxiety, abdominal pain, hives, dizziness, difficulty breathing and swallowing, swelling of the face, vomiting, and loss of consciousness.

Top 6 Causes of Allergies

There are many causes of allergies because different people are sensitive to different things. Knowing what the most common causes of allergies are is important, and it’s a good idea to be vigilant, even if you’ve never had a reaction.

1. Pollen

Also called hay fever, an allergy to pollen in the air, especially during spring and summer, can cause people to experience sneezing, coughing, and itchy eyes.[4]

2. Dust

The small bugs living in the dust in our homes, schools, places of work, and other areas of life are called dust mites, and they can cause allergic reactions.[5] Even a clean house can still have dust mites in it.

3. Pets

Some people are allergic to the material that cats and/or dogs shed from their bodies, known as dander. A pet dander allergy can be mild in some individuals, but others might experience shortness of breath or a rash from just being around animals.[6]

4. Food

Some foods can cause a person to experience a mild allergic reaction, while others can be highly dangerous. Peanuts and shellfish are often the cause of severe allergic reactions.[7]

5. Medications

Some people are allergic to drugs such as penicillin or aspirin. Again, sometimes these reactions are mild, but they can be dangerous.

6. Insect Stings

Bee stings are among some of the most dangerous insect stings that cause allergic reactions.

What are Seasonal Allergies?

When spring rolls around and the time has come to bask in the green grass, do you find yourself itchy and sneezing? Or when the warm, summer breeze arrives, do you feel nauseous, itchy, or drowsy? If so, you likely are one of more than 50 million Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies.

When most people think of seasonal allergies, they typically think of pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds. But did you know that seasonal allergies also include other seasonally related triggers? For instance, many people have allergies to smoke from bonfires in the summer and fireplaces in the winter. Even particular ingredients in candy that’s typically consumed on holidays like Halloween and Valentine’s Day can be considered seasonal allergies.

As a whole, seasonal allergies vary from region to region and from person to person, as various climates are home to different allergens and everyone reacts to these allergens differently. 

3 Ways to Prevent Allergies

Once you’re allergic to something, you might never stop being allergic to it. However, it’s also possible for an allergy to go away on its own. Still, there are ways to prevent an allergic reaction, depending on your specific allergen.

1. Stay Indoors

If you experience hay fever, stay indoors as much as possible at the time when pollen is at its peak (in the morning and during the spring/summer months).[8] It can also help to make sure you keep your windows closed when you are at home to keep the pollen from getting inside.

2. Clean

If you are allergic to dust, it is a good idea to keep your house as clean as possible, to live in a house with hardwood floors, if possible, and to use mite-proof bedding on your pillows and mattress.[9]

3. Avoid Your Allergens

Try to avoid known allergens. For example, make sure your doctor knows your allergies before they prescribe medications, avoid the foods that cause you to have reactions, and if you are allergic to pet dander, buy a pet that doesn’t shed dander.

Possible Allergy Treatment Options

If you do experience an allergic reaction, there are several different treatments available, depending on the allergen and the severity of the reaction.

1. Treating Regular Allergic Reactions

There are many different treatments for seasonal allergies. Both over-the-counter and prescription-based antihistamines and nasal steroids are popular.[2] You can also use decongestants, cromolyn sodium, or, if your doctor approves, immunotherapy.

2. Treating Anaphylaxis

People who have had a severe reaction to an allergen and are likely to go into or have gone into anaphylactic shock need immediate medical attention.[10] Call 911 if someone you know experiences anaphylaxis. Sometimes a shot is necessary, and people who are prone to this condition often carry medications with them in case they experience this reaction.

What are Signs of an Allergic Reaction?

When you have an allergic reaction, your immune system is reacting abnormally – or overreacting – to a foreign substance. And, allergies in the United States are increasing: As many as 30 percent of adults and 40 percent of children are affected. This means that most people will experience some sort of allergic reaction in their lifetime, and oftentimes, this condition is mild, such as with typical seasonal allergies.

While there are many different types of triggers that can cause someone to have an allergic reaction, some of the most common allergens include:

  • Animal dander
  • Bee venom
  • Shellfish
  • Nuts
  • Pollen
  • Mold
  • Dust mites
  • Dairy

Experiencing an allergic reaction can be frightening, so it’s important to know the warning signs of a severe allergic reaction. If you or someone around you is experiencing a severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis, which is the most severe type of allergic reaction that affects the entire body, dial 911. Symptoms include:

  • Chest discomfort or tightness
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Flushing or redness of the face
  • Swelling of the face, eyes, and/or tongue

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Allergies

  • Do you have any known allergies?
  • How long have you had an allergy?
  • How long have you experienced an allergic reaction?
  • Have you ever experienced dangerous side effects such as swelling of the face or an inability to swallow or breathe?

Sources

  1. National Library of Medicine. Allergy. https://medlineplus.gov/allergy.html
  2. National Library of Medicine. Is It a Cold or an Allergy? https://medlineplus.gov/magazine/issues/summer11/articles/summer11pg20.html
  3. News in Health. Red, Itchy Rash? https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2012/04/red-itchy-rash
  4. National Library of Medicine. Hay Fever. https://medlineplus.gov/hayfever.html
  5. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Dust Mites. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/allergens/dustmites/index.cfm
  6. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Pet Allergy: Are You Allergic to Dogs or Cats? http://www.aafa.org/page/pet-dog-cat-allergies.aspx
  7. National Library of Medicine. Food Allergy. https://medlineplus.gov/foodallergy.html
  8. National Institute of Health. How to Control Your Seasonal Allergies. https://medlineplus.gov/magazine/issues/spring13/articles/spring13pg22-23.html
  9. National Library of Medicine. Allergies, Asthma, and Dust. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000487.htm
  10. National Library of Medicine. Anaphylaxis. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000844.htm
  11. National Library of Medicine. Eczema. https://medlineplus.gov/eczema.html

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