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Allergies

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Definition

An allergy is an over-reaction by the immune system to substances that are commonly harmless. The intensity of allergies can range from slightly annoying allergies to serious and life-threatening allergies.

The immune system responds to antigens that are harmful by producing antibodies and other substances. Antigens are generally large proteins or poly-saccharides that exist on the surface of viruses, bacteria, fungi or cells. Some antigens are called HLA-antigens.

The immune system protects our health and functions only when the harmful substances (or allergens) enter our body. For example, you may have a reaction to pollens, molds, dust mites, animal danders, foods or medications. When the body comes in contact with these allegens, your immune system releases chemicals such as histamine to warn you to reduce your exposure and to protect it.

In the body of an individual with hyper-active immune system, the body – to fight the allergen – produces immunoglobulin E (IgE), a type of protein that circulates through the blood and this is an antibody. These IgE antibodies attach to mast cells (a type of blood cell). As many allergens tend to enter the body through airways, throat, lungs and the gastrointestinal tract, the body stores many Mast cells in those areas. The mixing of the allergens and the IgE (that are attached to mast cells) causes the mast cells to violently release a variety of substances and chemicals - including histamines. Histamines can bind themselves to receptors in the blood vessels and the blood vessels are enlarged. Histamines can also bind to other types of receptors and result in various symptoms such as redness, itching swelling and changes in the secretions.

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These chemicals and histamine are responsible for symptoms of allergies. The most effect of allergens is usually found in the path of travel through the body. Therefore allergens (such as foods) that are taken orally, usually affect the mouth, the opening to Trachea, the esophagus, stomach, intestines and the colon. On the other hand allergens that are air-born (such as pollens and dander) mostly affect the nose, the lungs and the throat. The eyes are often victoms of air-born allergens too. If the mast cells release large enough amounts of anti-bodies, the effect can be serious and symptoms could present themselves throughout the body. In such cases, in addition to burning eyes and itchiness or runny nose, the body can get hives and the patient may begin to suffer from dangerously low blood pressure and eventually go into shock. In extreme cases, the patient may lose consciousness and even die.

Nobody knows with certainty why people get allergies. Some allergy researchers believe allergies are stress-related and some link allergies to nutritional deficiencies or imbalances. Some believe allergies are partly genetic and still other allergy researchers associate the occurrence of allergic reactions to the presence and accumulation of toxic chemicals in the body. Patients develop allergies often with no particular reason but on rare occasion people acquire new allergies in their middle age or later. People seem to get allergies if they are exposed to the allergens that bother them when the body's defenses are low or weak. This can happen when they are ill or pregnant, for example.

More and more people are suffering from allergies, especially in the developed countries. Millions of people around the world suffer from allergies to pollens. Pollen is a fine powder made by flowering plants and trees. An allergy caused by pollens is known as hay fever and is one of the most common types of allergies. Some people think of hay fever as the spring allergy. But pollen grains can be in the air not only in the spring, but also in summer and fall. It just depends on the type of tree, grass, or weed.

Most allergic reactions are not very serious problems but some can be serious and some even deadly. Anaphylactic is serious allergic reaction. Latex rubber, medications, foods, and insect venom commonly trigger anaphylaxis, an allergic reaction. Anaphylaxis causes hundreds of allergy death in America each year.

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Seasonal or Perenial Allergies?

There are many types of allergies but the two main groups are seasonal allergies and perennial allergies.

Seasonal allergies are usually caused by plants that release pollen in the air. Spring time allergies are usually a result of pollen from trees, pollen from grass in the summer and in the fall a predominant allergen is rag-weed and other flower pollens. These allergies slowly phase out when the plants stop pollinating and the allergy often subsides.

The majority of perennial allergies are caused by indoor allergens. These include dust mites, animals, and mold or consumable goods. Certain foods can trigger allergic reactions too.

People suffering from allergies usually identify the allergens that cause them the most suffering, either through years of experience or through an allergen test.

(Comparison table of perennial and seasonal allergens)

Perennial Seasonal
Mold Tree pollen (spring)
Animal dander or hair Grass pollen (spring-fall)
Feathers Weeds (late summer/autumn)
Dust mites and dust Leaf mold (early spring/late autumn)
Insect stings  
Latex  
Certain foods or medicines  

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Symptoms

Symptoms of allergies can vary with the allergens causing the allergy. For example some drugs and medications, some foods, fibers of some types of clothing, some detergents, many types of pets, almost all dust mites, mold, latex rubber, and, insect stings and pollen may each cause a different set of symptoms. The severity of symptoms can depend on sensitivity, strength of the immune system and other factors. Allergy symptoms can range in intensity and seriousness from mild to moderate to severe and deadly.

SYMPTOMS OF ALLERGY
Intensity Location Examples of Symptoms
Mild Mild allergic reactions usually affect a specific part of the human body and do not spread. Rash, itchy skin, itchy eyes, itchy nose, itchy throat, watery eyes, congestion, allergy-induced sneezing, often with a runny or clogged nose
Moderate These allergic symptoms affect the path of travel of the allergen but spread to other parts of the body too. Could include the mild symptoms of allergy plus difficulty breathing, coughing, Urticaria (which is an allergic disorder that causes raised edematous patches of skin or mucous membrane and usually involves intense itching), reddened welts or lumps on the body, dark circles under the eyes, Red swollen eyes, crusting of the eyelids
Severe
(Anaphylaxis)
Such allergic reactions can affect the entire body or attack a specific organ or area. This is rare but it should be treated as is life-threatening emergency. Could include mild and moderate symptoms of allergy and may include nausea, stomache pains or cramps, lightheadedness, dizziness (possibly linked to allergy-induced drop in blood pressure), diarrhea, various types of swelling, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing due to constricted airways, difficulty swallowing, confusion, rapid or weak pulse, turning blue in your skin, stiffness and joint pain. Anaphylaxis can lead to loss of consciousness, coma and ultiumately death.

Symptoms of allergies and colds can be similar, especially in the case of hay fever. Differences of symptoms described following may be helpful to distinguish between allergies and colds.

  Allergic Symptoms Cold Symptoms
Symptoms Runny or stuffed nose, sneezing, wheezing, watery and itchy eyes Can include fever and aches and running (thick, yellowish) nose and pains along with allergy symptoms
Warning Time Allergy symptoms begin right after exposure to an allergen Usually takes a few days
Duration Allergy symptoms last as long as you are around the allergen Cold symptoms should clear up within a few days to a week.

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Cause and risk factors

Allergens are not the causes of allergy but trigger allergic reactions. Researchers of allergy have identified many allergens that trigger allergic reactions, including:

  • Animal dander, hair or saliva
  • Foods
  • Dust mites
  • Molds
  • Fibers from clothing and other fabrics
  • Detergents
  • Latex rubber
  • Insect stings and venom
  • Pollens (tree, grass, weed, or other plants)
  • Drugs such as the penicillin family, sulfas, anticonvulsants, insulin, barbiturates,vaccines or other medications
  • Foods including peanuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy beans or shellfish

In rare cases, allergy patients can be allergic to:

  • Hot or cold temperatures
  • Injuries such as cuts and bruises
  • Exercise
  • Certain emotions

People with certain medical conditions have higher risks of allergies. Some medical conditions that increase the risk of developing allergies include:

  • Asthma
  • Sensitive skin
  • Nasalpolyps
  • A family history of severe allergic reaction
  • Lung conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Predisposition to infections

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Treatment

Most medical practioners, especially the Western medicine physicians, believe there is no cure for allergies. They advise their allergy patients to just learn to cope with allergy and avoid the things that trigger allergies. If the allergy patient lives in an environment that has more pollen, the physician may recommend that the allergy patient moves to another are and another city. However in practical life, it is impossible to avoid inhaling or contacting or ingesting some allergens. For example certain foods or desserts may contain traces of peanuts and therefore the allergens, although peanut is not an ingredient used in the product. In such cases the Western Medicine physicians will prescribe allergy medications that reduce or completely remove the symptoms of allergy. Allergy medication is also prescribed in case of accidental exposure to the allergens.

Medications for allergy treatment come in many forms and types ranging from those for managing mild symptoms of allergy to those for dealing with severe allergic symptoms. Allergy medications are available over-the-counter and some are by prescription only and they can help temporarily manage the symptoms of allergy. Medications include decongestants, antihistamines and corticosteroids.

Allergy medications are classified for chronic allergies such as hay fever or for immediate, emergent treatment such as anaphylaxis.

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Medications for chronic allergies include:

  1. Antihistamines which block the histamine receptors and thereby reduce the discomfort associated with allergy symptoms. These allergy drugs can cause drowsiness. Antihistamines come in two forms:
    • Over-the-counter types including loratadine (Claritin), Benadryl, Chlor-Trimeton, Dimetane and Tavist. Ocu-Hist is an eye drop for red ithcy eyes.
    • Prescription type Antihistamines include Clarinex, cetirizine (Zyrtec) and exofenadine (Allegra). Astelin is a prescription nasal spray. Livostin and Emadine are eye drops that help those allergies affecting the eys whilst Astelin is a nasal spray.
  2. Decongestants - as the name suggests - remove or reduce congestion. These allergy drugs are unsafe to use for more than a few days because the nasal sprays and eye drop can actually make the symptoms worse if used for a long time. Typically decongestants can increase the blood pressure in an allergy patient and therefore decongestants should not be used by people who suffer from hypertension or glaucoma. Decongestants can also cause sleeplessness or lead to anxiety and irritability. Another known side effect of decongestants is restricted urinary flow and this must be particularly noted by those who suffer from prostate problems or who already have urinary flow problems and are on medications such as flomax.. Decongestants too come in over-the-Counter types and by prescription:
    • Over-the-counter: Afrin, Sudafed and Neo-Synephrine nasal sprays. Visine can be an effective eye drop
    • Prescription decongestants used for managing Allergy include Zytec-D, Allegra-D and Claritin-D.
  3. Mast Cell Stabilizers are used as an anti-inflammatory allergy drug to deal mainly with the constriction of the bronchial tubes. These allergy drugs prevent the the release of histamine from mast cells. Very foten physicians prescribe such allergy drugs with a view to prevent asthma attacks when the patient is required to be physically active or during times of other physical exertion (such as some types of employent). They are also used as a preventive allergy drug - before the patient comes in contact with the allergen. These allergy drugs can take several weeks before the patient nitices any benefit and there are many examples of this category of allergy medications, including: Alocril, Alamast, Crolom, Intal, Tilade, Nasalcrom, Alomide and Opticrom. Side effects can vary from patient to patient and includes a burning sensation in the eye or blurred vision when used as eye drops. Paradoxically, the inhaled types of Mast Cell Stabilizers cause cough, skin rash and irritation of the thorat (all are symptoms of allergy which these drugs are supposed to treat).
  4. Leukotriene Modifiers are another prescription drug of choice for treating nasal allergy symptoms and asthma. Examples include the widely advertised Singulair and Accolate. These allergy drugs block the effects of leukotrienes (chemicals that the body produces when aggravtade by allergy). This family of allergy medications can cause cough, rash, stuffy nose, upset Stomach, abdominal pain (which are all symptoms of allergy), as well as heartburn, fever and headaches.
  5. Corticosteroids are another family of allergy drugs as they reduce the inflammation associated with allergies. Nasal congestion, stuffiness, itch, wheezing, sneezing and runny nose are common symptoms of allergy and are caused by inflammation. Corticosteroids usually take one or two weeks before they show results and come in many forms including skin creams, eye drops, inhalers, pills, nasal sprays and syrup. Physicians and pharmaceutical manufacturers typically advise that you take Corticosteroids regularly even if you do not suffer the symptoms. Taken orally and over extended periods of time, Corticosteroids will present manay adverse side effects to allergy patients such as suppression of growth, eye Cataracts, osteoporosis, diabetes and Muscle weakness. Short term side effects include issues with Fluid retention, weight gain and worst of all: hypertension. When inhaled, corticosteroids can cause severe coughs and oral yeast infections. Corticosteroids medications include:
    • Eye drops include Dexamethasone and Alrex.
    • Nasal corticosteroids include Flonase, Nasonex, Rhinocort, Beconase and Nasocort.
    • Oral steroids include Deltasone (or prednisone).
    • Inhaled corticosteroids include Azmacort, Pulmicort, Beclovent and Flovent. Advair is used for management of asthma.

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Other Therapy

Allergy shots, also called Immunotherapy, are amongst the most important treatments for those allergy patients who have persistent allergic symptoms or severe allergy episodes. These shots may not have immediate effect but they strengthen the body’s own response to the allergen and help develop the immune system to correctly deal with allergen. The care provider will gradually increase the levels of the offending allergen.

Other Over-The-Counter Medications

  • Salt-water solution, or saline solution, is available as a nasal spray to relieve allergy-induced mild congestion, loosen mucus, and prevent crusting. These sprays contain no medicine.
  • Artificial tears contain no medicine and are available to treat itchy, watery, and red eyes associated often with allergy.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy or allergy desensitization shots; This will be given in a course which may help to decrease your body’s sensitivity to a particular allergen.

Immunotherapy or allergy desensitization shots; This will be given in a course which may help to decrease your body’s sensitivity to a particular allergen.

The first step is to find out what allergens the person is allergic to.

The second; To use a specific medication over a period of time that desensitizes them to the allergen, by using a specific technique.

Skin tests are usually the first in line, these detect what allergens causes the most problems.

These are then followed by a series of therapeutic injections which contain the allergens.

The injections are given once a week over a few months and then once a month over a period that stretches between 3-5yrs.

The goal; Over time your sensitivity to these specific allergens should be dramatically reduced or lost completely.

Immunotherapy does carry a risk of an allergic reaction after the shot.

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Alternative choices for treatment

In case of allergy, it is highly recommended that you see your doctor.

  • Aromatherapy
  • Dabbing oils such as cedarwood, raucaluptus (Eucaluyptus globulus) and peppermint (Menatha piperita) oils on handkerchief and inhaling them may function as a decongestant. Also, massaging mixed oil, for example, 1 tsp of a carrier oil such as sunflower or sweet almond oil and 1 drop of lavender (Lavandula officinalis) oil into your skin around sinuses may help relieve nasal congestion.


  • Chinese herbs
  • The folloing Chinese herbs have been used for managing allergies and relieve the symptoms: prepare and mix 5 grams of apricot seed (Prunus armeniaca), 1.5 grams of licorice (Glycyrrhiza uralensis), 4 grams of cinnamon sticks (Cinnamomum cassia) and 5 grams of ephedra (Ephedra is a controversial product; check with your doctor before using it). These ingredients rea steeped in cold water and boiled.. The allergy sufferer can strain and drink the liquid.

  • Herbal Therapies
  • Mixtures of garlic (Allium sativum), goldenrod (Solidago virgaurea), eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis), elder (Sambucus nigra) flower, yarrow (Achillea millefolium) nettle (Urtiea dioica) and chamomile (Matricaria recutita ) arte said to have anti-inflammatory and anti-mucus effects for allergy patients.

  • Homepathy
  • It has been suggested that Arsenicum album (6c) may be benefitial for Allergy related sneezing, runny nose and itchy throat. Allium cepa (6c) may be effective to reduce the symptoms such as itchy eyes, runny nose, and sore upper lip. Pulsatilla (6c) may be helpful to relieve the symptom of allergy chronic thick mucus.

  • Acupressure
  • Rubbing accupressure point Large Intestine 4 strongly about a minute may be effective to redeuce symptoms involved in respiratory allergies. Large Intestine 4 is the highest spot of the area between the thumb and index finger. Yet, you shouldn’t try this point if you are pregnant. Massaging Triple Warmer 5 may help to enforce the immune system. Triple Warmer 5 is on the outside of the forearm between the ulna and radius two finger widths.

  • Nutrition and Diet
  • Some nutrition can be valuable for reducing the symptoms of allergies or preventing from having allergies. Vitamin A and B complex can strengthen your immune system. Bioflavonoids, which were found in the white pith of citrus fruits, and vitamin C function like natural antihistamines. You may need to – under advice of your phycian - have more citrus fruit and take 500 mg of vitaminC twice a day. Products containing royal jelly and Bee Pollen may alleviate the symptoms of allegies, especialy, respiratory allergies.

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See a doctor IF:

Allergic reactions can be fatal and sometimes develop rapidly. You must see a doctor if you notice your symptoms are bad or worsening. Never try to self treat moderate or severe allergy. You can endanger your life. If you experience the symptoms of anaphylaxis, you must call an ambulace.

Prevention

To identify which allergens trigger the allergy, one can take an allergy test. The two main types of allergy tests are:

  • Skin tests -- A pin is used to inject a small amount of allergen into your skin.
  • Blood tests -- Doctors study a small sample of your blood.

Both tests look for certain disease-fighting antibodies. Your body makes these cells to match whatever it is fighting. Your antibodies tell doctors what you are allergic to.

Some people wonder if moving to another part of the country will help. It usually does not. People with allergies will typically develop an allergy to some other allergen in the new area. The best way of preventing allergies is to live a healthy lifestyle and build up your immune system and protect yourself from those chemicals and those stresses that weaken your immune system.

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Self help and self care

Vitamin C in substantial dosages can help stabilize the mucous membrane response in allergy patients. Research shows that Vitamin C has antihistamine activity and decreases the production of histamines. Vitamin C can also reduce the risks of allergy and helps relieve allergic symptoms and reduces inflammatory reactions. It can assist in the production of adrenal hormones needed to combat the stress that the body suffers when faced with allergic reactions.

Omega-3 fatty acids have shown in research to improve breathing in people with allergy-induced asthma triggered by allergens in the air.

Vitamin E 800 IU per day when taken orally, has shown in research to help allergy sufferers during the pollen season. Results showed it significantly reduced the severity of hay fever symptoms by 23% when compared with placebo and regular anti-allergy treatment.

Quercetin has been researched as possible treatment for hay fever in allergy patients. It is a rich source of bioflavonoids and has shown in experiments to reduce allergic reactions. It has also shown anti-inflammatory activity and helped reduce histamine release.

Thymus extracts have shown in studies and double blinded research to reduce the effects of hay fever and allergic rhinitis. Some researchers believe Thymus can help restore the immune system functions in allergy patients.

Butterbur has been compared to antihistamines in double-blinded studies and has shown to have similar or same effects on allergy patients.

Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA) has been researched for its anti-inflammatory properties. This has shown in research to reduce inflammation commonly associated with allergies the recommended dose is 1,500mg per day.

Omega 3 which is found in DHA and EPA has also shown to be affective in treating allergies. It is found to be more effective when combined with GLA. Recommended dose EPA and DHA combined is 3000mg.

Grape seed extract contains natural bioflavonoids this when combined with vitamin C has shwon in resrach to reduce the alergic reaction. Recommenede dose of 300mg per day.

NAC has shwon in trials to be a strong antioxidant this has also shwon to be helpful in people suffering allergies invloving the lungs including asthma. It has also showed to be more effective when taken with viatmin C the recommended dose is 600mg daily.

Copper (Amino Acid Chelate) is important in the production of T-cells and has shown to be important in formation of Super Oxide Dismutase this is n anti-oxidant that protects against free radical damage to mitochondria. Mitochondria are important in energy production.

Magnesium (Citrate) has shown in research to be and anti stress mineral. It has shown to buffer the stage of allergic reaction. It is also important in detoxifying the body. It has also shown in research to help bronco constriction in asthma by helping the muscles around the bronchial tubes relax.

Selenium (Amino Acid Chelate) has shown in research to help protect the bodies cell membranes and stimulate immune function.

Vitamin B15 has shown in research to help to reduce muscle fatigue and help endurance.

Calcium (Citrate) has shown in research to help regulate the body’s levels acid/alkaline in tissues. It has shown to help to buffer the acid stage of an allergic reaction and also helps to reduce the production of histamine.

Bromelain has shown in trials to inhibit pro-inflammatory compounds. It encourages circulation and also post traumatic reabsorption of by-products due to inflammation.

Licorice Root has been studied for its anti-allergic actions. It has been of particular interest to researchers for helping with inflammation of the skin.

Chamomile Tea has been suggested by scientist to reduce the length of hay fever attacks.

Eucalyptus can be used by people who are suffering from decongestion which can be a symptom of certain allergies.

Ginger has been shown in research to help reduce inflammation and also to be useful as an antimicrobial.

Local honey when dissolved in warm water has shown in certain studies to reduce symptoms. It is suggested that the way this works is that the honey delivers very small doses of local pollen which is usually the main trigger for an allergic attack.

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Allergies