Allergy A Dangerous Ailment:
Allergies are seen as minor ailments, especially for those who don’t suffer from them, but it’s a serious state of affair for those who really suffer.
It was just like any other day at office, but for the presence of a paramedic from US who had volunteered to train a group of Emergency Medical Technicians who were just completing their EMT-B program. After a long and tiresome morning session, the instructor and the candidates were more than eager to get to the dining hall. Today, on menu was some river fish, which was wonderfully prepared by the in-house cook. Towards the end of the lunch, all of a sudden, the paramedic started gasping for air. His face had turned pale and he ran towards his room; a wave of panic went across the floor for a while. Then every one saw him using some pre-loaded allergic shots on to his body. After some time, he explained that he was allergic to certain types of fishes and proteins, which could be fatal, if not treated in time.
According to American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, It is estimated that at least 55% of U.S. citizens have at least one or two allergies; Allergy is the 5th leading chronic disease in the U.S. among all ages, and the 3rd common chronic disease among children under 18 years old. If this is the condition in US, where the health and wellness ratio is much higher, then what would it be in our country.
Allergy is a condition wherein the body responds to a foreign body that comes in contact with the body’s immune system. Allergies are also said to be an inappropriate response of the immune system to a foreign substance. At times, what is normally a harmless substance, such as certain foods, dust particles, certain medicines, animal danders, etc. causes the immune system to react as if the substance were harmful for the body. These substances that cause allergies are called allergens. Being exposed to allergens at certain times when the body’s defences are low or weak, such as after a viral infection or during pregnancy, also may contribute to the development of allergies.
In such times, the body makes a desperate attempt to protect itself and the immune system produces Immunoglobulin (IgE) antibodies to that allergen. Those antibodies then cause certain cells in the body to release chemicals into the bloodstream, one of which is called histamine, that fight against the allergen, thereby generating allergic symptoms.
Symptoms of Allergies:
In an allergic reaction, the symptoms and degree of allergy vary depending upon the sensitivity of that particular person and the type of allergen.
When people come into contact with an allergen, they may experience allergic symptoms including sneezing, congestion, itchy, watery nose and eyes and/or asthma symptoms such as wheezing, chest tightness, difficulty in breathing, coughing, nausea, vomiting etc.
An allergic reaction or hypersensitive response occurs as the result of the interaction among the allergen itself, mast cells, and immunoglobulin. Allergic reactions can be mild, like a runny nose, or they can be severe, like difficulty in breathing, an asthma attack, due to the release of inflammatory chemicals that causes swelling of tissues, itching, and engorgement of blood vessels, increased secretions, and bronchospasm (breathlessness due to tightening of muscles that surround the airways).
Some types of allergies produce multiple symptoms, and in rare cases, an allergic reaction can become very severe and lead to a condition called anaphylaxis. Signs of anaphylaxis include difficulty in breathing, difficulty in swallowing, swelling of the lips, tongue, and throat or other parts of the body, and dizziness or even loss of consciousness.
Anaphylaxis usually occurs minutes after exposure to a triggering substance, such as a peanut, but some reactions might be delayed by as long as 4 hours. Luckily, anaphylactic reactions don’t occur often and can be treated successfully if proper medical procedures are followed.
If the allergen is airborne, the allergic reaction will occur in the eyes, nose and/or lungs. If the allergen is ingested, the allergic reaction may primarily occur in the mouth, stomach and intestines.
Common Allergens that cause Allergic Reactions:
The most common allergens are pollens, dust mites, animal danders. Allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, is the allergic response to pollen. It causes inflammation and swelling of the lining of the nose, as well as the protective tissue of the eyes (conjunctiva). Symptoms include sneezing, congestion and itchy, watery eyes. Treatment options include over-the-counter and prescription oral and topical medications. These medications include antihistamines, intranasal cromolyn, intranasal steroids, oral antileukotrienes, oral decongestants, and others. The most effective strategy to reduce allergic rhinitis symptoms is to avoid contact to such allergens.
Avoiding pollen exposure by staying indoors when pollen counts are high, closing windows and using air conditioning will help reduce symptoms. Avoidance of indoor allergens such as dust mites and mold spores entails measures to reduce indoor humidity. Dust mite exposure can also be reduced by mattress/box spring and pillow encasement, and washing all bedding in hot cycle frequently. Avoiding pets is a challenge for many patients, but can be a very important factor in improving symptoms of allergic rhinitis and/or asthma. When avoidance measures combined with regular use of medications is not effective, not feasible, or not desirable, immunotherapy (allergy shots) may be considered.
Pollens are microscopic airborne particles released by trees, grasses, or weeds. When these particles are accidentally inspired, people who have inherited the potential to make allergic responses in their immune system may become sensitized. When they are subsequently re-exposed to the same pollen, they may experience symptoms of allergic rhinitis.
Dust mites are microscopic insects that mostly strive in warm, humid areas; dust and fiber material that are stagnant for some time are breeding grounds. The symptoms of dust mite allergy are similar to those of pollen allergy, and produce symptoms of asthma such as wheezing and coughing.
Molds are parasitic, microscopic fungi with spores that are also released in the air. Mold can be found in damp areas, such as the basement or bathroom, as well as in the outdoor environment in grass, leaf piles, hay, and mulch or under mushrooms. Mold spores peak during hot, humid weather.
Animal danders are proteins secreted by sweat glands in an animal’s skin, which are shed in dander, and the proteins present in an animal’s saliva cause allergic reactions in some people. Treatment involves avoiding exposure as much as possible.
Food allergies are most common in infants and often go away as people get older. Although some food allergies can be serious, many simply cause annoying symptoms like an itchy rash, a stuffy nose, and diarrhea. The foods that people are most commonly allergic to are milk and other dairy products, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts and tree nuts, and seafood.
Insect bites and stings: The venom (poison) in insect bites and stings can cause allergic reactions, and can be severe and even cause an anaphylactic reaction in some people.
Medicines: Antibiotics—medications used to treat infections—are the most common type of medicines that cause allergic reactions. Many other medicines also can cause allergic-type reactions.
Chemicals: Certain chemicals in cosmetics or laundry detergents are also allergic to some individuals and show symptoms of an itchy rash (hives)
If you experience allergic symptoms that last longer than a week and tend to recur, especially if they interfere with desired activities (e.g., exercising outdoors, work, school, with your night’s sleep), and are persistently troubling you, then you need to consult a certified Allergy/Immunology physician. These physicians might perform an Allergy skin test to identify the allergens that are causing these reactions. The test is performed by pricking your skin with an extract of an allergen and then evaluated, and management is done based on the skin’s reaction.
A Radioallergosorbent test (RAST) is also performed to identify the allergen. The RAST evaluates allergy antibodies in the bloodstream produced by the immune system. Elevated levels of these antibodies can diagnose particular allergies, but this test is less sensitive than skin testing and for this reason is not preferred.
How to Deal with Allergies:
People with certain allergies tend to either ignore or suffer in silence. While there is no cure and prevention for allergies, proper management of this condition can help you control them effectively.
Once it is recognized that an individual is allergic to a certain allergen, the first and foremost thing is to keep him/her off from such allergens and environments that would trigger allergic reaction. Avoidance is the best medication.
Making changes in one’s environment also helps to limit exposure to certain allergens and reduce the symptoms. Medications that are safe and effective can be taken in for short duration, but. Allergen immunotherapy is also an option for reducing allergic symptoms and medication dependency on a long-term basis.