This was written with one goal in mind:
To help you help yourself. It is our belief that the first line of defense against allergy is environmental control. Scientific studies over the last several years have shown which environmental control measures are effective and which are not. The advice given here is based on those studies. By following a simple plan, you can significantly decrease your exposure to allergy-causing substances, and significantly improve your health. In some cases, exposure can be eliminated or decreased to the point that no other treatment is necessary. In other cases exposure can be decreased only partially, making other types of treatment necessary. But even in those situations, less treatment will be required, and it will work better if you have first decreased exposure. If an individual is allergic to one or more substances, the sum total of exposures at a given time (the “total allergen load”) determines whether or not the person’s threshold has been reached and will cause symptoms.
What are Allergies?
Allergy may be defined as an unusual reaction to normally harmless substances that contact the body surfaces. These surfaces include the eyes, nose, lungs, stomach and skin. The sensitizing substances are called allergens.
- The human body has a complex system that fights off infection called the “immune system”. In allergic individuals the system overreacts to common environmental substances.
- When the body overreacts to a substance that is normally harmless, it is having an allergic reaction.
- The offensive substances affecting outside mucus surfaces include dust, pollens and animal saliva or dander (dead skin flakes from dogs, cats, etc…); those affecting the intestinal tract are certain foods or drugs; and the offensive substances affecting the skin are chemicals, latex, insect stings or bites, etc…
- How do these allergies develop? The body’s defense system – the immune system, reacts to foreign substances such as bacteria, pollens, molds and animal dander. The system may fight back with cells such as white blood cells (lymphocytes) that produce proteins called antibodies. Non-allergic people respond mainly with IgG and IgM antibodies while allergic people respond mainly with IgE antibodies. IgG and IgM remove the foreign substance without much reaction. The making of the IgE antibodies can result in an allergic reaction. This interaction results in a chain reaction of chemical release causing inflammation and swelling of the tissues. These chemicals, such as histamine and leukotrienes, have varied targets and cause mucous production, itch, congestion, i.e. the symptoms of allergy.
- Once the body has encountered an allergen, it remembers this event. On future encounters, the body’s reaction is more rapid and more intense.
- Cough, wheeze, sneeze, itch, tearing, and runny nose are some of the common symptoms of allergic persons. Patients may also have headaches, fatigue, tiredness, shortness of breath, chest tightness, ear infection, sinus pressure and/or infection, skin itching and eczema as well as stomach symptoms.
- A person can develop allergies at any age, even in infancy.
- Allergies in seniors are similar to those of younger adults, but adult onset asthma tends to be more persistent and may be harder to treat.
- Allergies run in families. However, developing an allergy to a given substance depends upon the amount of exposure and the individual’s genetics. Allergies often develop after repeated exposure to the allergen.
- The natural history of allergy can be quite variable. An infant may show eczema followed by recurrent otitis media (middle ear infection) or serous otitis (fluid in the ears) as a young child (age 1-5) and will have wheezing or asthma in later years. This might be followed by hay fever as an adolescent. A given individual may express some or all of these conditions at various times in their life. One set of symptoms may be dominant or all symptoms can be of equal magnitude.
- The common allergic conditions include allergic rhinitis (hay fever), allergic conjunctivitis (red and itchy eyes), asthma, food allergy and atopic dermatitis (eczema). A common complication of allergic rhinitis is sinusitis (sinus infections).
- An allergic reaction that involves the whole body and can be life-threatening due to respiratory failure or shock is called anaphylaxis.