What You Need to Know About Allergies


For allergy sufferers, life can be difficult. Sniffling, runny noses, sore throats, and headaches can ruin anyone’s day, especially if you couple those symptoms with itchy skin, red eyes, and overall fatigue. Allergies can be either a seasonal nuisance or a life-threatening challenge, and many of us deal with these ailments. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), “More than 50 million Americans have experienced various types of allergies each year. Allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S.” What are allergies, and why do they make us so miserable?

Allergies, or allergic diseases, are caused by the immune system’s hypersensitivity to certain environmental substances. The immune system’s job is to protect the body from harmful pathogens. The substance that triggers the reaction is called an allergen. The immune system perceives a common allergen like pollen as harmless. But when it is perceived as a threat, the immune system goes into attack mode. This immune response results in the symptoms we feel when encountering those substances, hence an allergic reaction.

Common symptoms like inflammation of the skin, sinuses, airways, or digestive system result from your body doing its best to protect you. All those unpleasant symptoms are caused by the histamines your body releases to attack the invader. According to Dr. Nayana Ambardekar at WebMD, “Histamines act like bouncers at a club. They help your body get rid of something that's bothering you…They can make you sneeze, tear up, or itch—whatever it takes to get the job done.” To suppress this reaction, you need antihistamines.

The most severe reaction to an allergen is called anaphylaxis. April Kahn at Healthline says, “Anaphylaxis causes a series of symptoms, including a rash, low pulse, and shock, which is known as anaphylactic shock. This can be fatal if it isn’t treated immediately.” The symptoms can take a few minutes to show up and include abdominal pain, anxiety, confusion, difficulty swallowing, and nausea. People with severe allergic reactions must always keep an injectable epinephrine pen on their person within minutes of the first sign of a serious allergic reaction.

Common Airborne Allergies
Allergen Symptoms Preventive Methods
Pollen · Itchy throat
· Red, itchy, or watery eyes
· Runny or stuffy nose
· Sneezing
· Wheezing or coughing
· Stay indoors on days with a high pollen count
· Install HEPA air filters in your home
· Change your clothes immediately after returning indoors
Dust mites · Itchy nose, roof of mouth, or throat
· Red, itchy, or watery eyes
· Runny or stuffy nose
· Sneezing
· Postnasal drip
· Coughing
· Facial pressure or pain
· Use allergen-proof bed covers
· Wash bedding weekly
· Vacuum regularly
· Keep humidity low or use a humidifier
· Remove dust with a moist cloth
· Remove all carpeting, if possible
Mold · Itchy eyes, nose, or throat
· Watery eyes
· Runny or stuffy nose
· Sneezing
· Postnasal drip
· Coughing
· Dry, scaly skin
· Eliminate sources of dampness in the home (ex: leaky pipes)
· Make sure all bathrooms are properly ventilated
· Remove old books and newspapers
· Install HEPA air filters
Animal dander · Itchy nose, roof of mouth, or throat
· Red, itchy, or watery eyes
· Runny or stuffy nose
· Sneezing
· Postnasal drip
· Coughing
· Facial pressure or pain
· Frequent waking during the night
· Swollen, blue-colored skin under the eyes
· In a child, frequent upward rubbing of the nose (sometimes dubbed the “allergic salute”)
· Hives, eczema, or itchy skin

· Avoid or reduce exposure to animals with fur
· Remove or replace upholstered furniture
· Replace bedding
· Replace carpeting
· Install HEPA air filters

A food allergy can cause a variety of distressing symptoms. Some food allergens include eggs, soybeans, seafood, peanuts, wheat, and cow’s milk. According to the staff at Mayo Clinic, “symptoms include:
- Tingling or itching in the mouth
- Hives, itching or eczema
- Swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat or other parts of the body
- Wheezing, nasal congestion or trouble breathing
- Abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting.”

It is important to differentiate between a food allergy and food intolerance. Food intolerance has significantly less severe symptoms than a food allergy. It can cause discomfort but is not severe or life-threatening. Some common food intolerances include dairy, gluten, yeast, and caffeine. Airborne or seasonal allergies only affect the skin and respiratory system, but food intolerances and allergies also impact the digestive system. Protect yourself by reading the ingredients of any foods while shopping or ordering out. And if you have a known food allergy, always carry an injectable epinephrine pen to treat potential anaphylactic shock.

Another type of allergy is an abnormal reaction to a drug, whether over the counter, prescribed, or herbal. The usual suspects are antibiotics like penicillin and pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Contact allergies also exist, and latex is a common one. Latex is the main component in rubber and is derived from the milky fluid obtained from rubber trees. It is found in many products like gloves, catheters, and balloons. Reactions to latex allergies usually occur at the site of contact and can cause rashes.

Lastly, insect allergies are allergies caused by the stings or bites of wasps, mosquitos, bees, hornets, ants, or ticks. The most typical response is a reaction at the sting or bite location and swelling that arises from the release of histamines. A person may experience full-body itching or hives, coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, or shortness of breath. Using antihistamine ointment and an ice pack can help relieve this pain. People with severe insect allergies that cause anaphylaxis should always carry an injectable epinephrine pen with them.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for allergies. However, allergy symptoms can be managed and minimized. You are more likely to suffer from allergic reactions if you have asthma or a family history of allergies or asthma. Because allergy symptoms can feel like other illnesses, it can be hard to pinpoint what is making you sick. The only way to know for sure is to make an appointment with a doctor specializing in allergies and immunology and to take a variety of allergy tests.

The two main tests are skin tests and blood tests. Skin tests are great for detecting food-related, airborne, and contact allergens. The skin tests come in three types: scratch, intradermal, and patch. In a scratch test, a medical professional will lightly puncture the skin with various allergens to see how your skin reacts. Any localized redness, swelling, or itchiness will identify an allergy. If the results are inconclusive, an intradermal test is required. This test involves injecting a tiny amount of an allergen into the dermis of the skin, and a doctor monitors to see if there is a reaction. The doctor may also use a patch test, which involves applying adhesive patches of specific allergens to the skin. Results are reviewed after 48 hours, after 72 hours, and finally after 96 hours. Blood tests are available to check for specific antibodies that fight allergens. Skin tests give results within 20 to 30 minutes, while blood test results take several days.

There are a plethora of medicines to help with allergy symptoms. One type is corticosteroids, which the AAFA describes as the following:
- Nasal corticosteroids minimize swelling in the nose.
- Corticosteroid creams or ointments can help with rashes and itchiness.
- Oral corticosteroids minimize swelling. They can treat severe allergic reactions but must be prescribed by a doctor.

Other types of medications include antihistamines, mast cell stabilizers, and decongestants. Antihistamines are great for seasonal and indoor allergies, and they work by blocking the body’s histamine receptors. Mast cell stabilizers keep your body from releasing histamine and are available as eye drops or nasal sprays. As nasal sprays, they treat hay fever, and as eye drops, they treat allergic conjunctivitis. Decongestants shrink swollen membranes in the nose, which reduces congestion and stuffiness. Be cautious with their use, however, as using these sprays for more than three days can cause the swelling to worsen rather than improve.

If these treatments fail to provide long-lasting relief, allergy shots or immunotherapy are great options. Allergy shots are wonderful for allergies to bee stings, pollen, dust mites, mold, and pet dander. By exposing the body to minimal amounts of the allergen, they train the body not to overreact when encountering it. While immunotherapy requires a three- to five-year commitment of taking shots, the benefit is a built-up overall resistance to allergies.

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Kelly Izdihar Crosby is an artist and freelance writer living in Atlanta, Georgia.

Reprinted from the Winter 2020 issue of Halal Consumer© magazine with permission from the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA®) and Halal Consumer© magazine.

 


  Category: Featured, Highlights, Life & Society
  Topics: Food, Health, Nutrition

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