Many adults and children have allergies, and they may take many different forms. Common forms of allergies include allergic asthma, hay fever, hives, and digestive upset. Allergy symptoms range from mild to life threatening. Although alleriges can run in families, having a family member with allergies does not guarantee that you will have them. Exposure to substances which cause allergic reactions when the body's defenses are weakened (like after infections or during pregnancy) may play a role. This might occur with an infection, at puberty, or during pregnancy, for instance. Allergies are more common in children than adults, but they can occur in patients of any age. They may also develop during childhood, go away, and come back years later. They can also happen in women going through menopause. Eczema is often a first sign that allergies may later develop. It most commonly starts in children younger than 5 (but can occur at any age). Asthma and hay fever often begin during preschool or elementary years. Fortunately, many of the symptoms of allergies can be prevented or controlled.
An allergy is the overreaction of the immune system (the body's defense system) when exposed to a substance which may be harmless. The body sees the substance as a threat and tries to fight off the threat with the allergic response. Different types of allergic responses include:
Allergic asthma, in which the airways swell and narrow, making breathing difficult and causing wheezing.
Allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever, a reaction to allergens in the air. It may be present only during certain times of the year (seasonal allergic rhinitis) or year-round (perennial allergic rhinitis). Symptoms of allergic rhinitis may seem similar to a cold with an itchy, runny nose and watery eyes.
Eczema is a common, chronic rash which often starts in infancy. It may begin on the cheeks. The rash typically comes and goes.
Contact dermatitis is an allergic reaction to a substance that comes in contact with the skin. The primary symptoms are itching and redness.
Hives or urticaria are raised welts on the skin that may occur as a reaction to insect stings, medicines, foods, or other substances.
Allergens is the term used to describe anything which causes an allergic reaction, whether it is inhaled, eaten, injected, or contacts the skin skin. Almost anything can be allergen, but some substances cause reactions more often than others. Common allergens include pollens, molds, house dust, animal dander, foods, medicines, insect venom, perfumes, and dyes.
What your doctor can do:
Ask about your symptoms and medical history; perform a physical examination
Order skin testing to determine what substances are causing your allergies
Order blood tests to look for levels of certain antibodies which occur with allergies
Prescribe bronchodilators, medications that help open the airways.
Prescribe or recommend antihistamines to relieve itching, sneezing, and runny nose or decongestants.
Refer you to a doctor who specializes in allergy treatments.
Prescribe steroids, which may be sprayed in the nose, inhaled or taken orally.
Prescribe "Allergy Shots" to help to decrease your sensitivity to specific allergens
What you can do:
Pay attention to what causes a reaction and avoid it if possible.
Breastfeeding for as long as you can helps to reduce the chance of allergies in young infants. As you introduce foods to your child, do so gradually, one at a time, and watch for signs of allergies.
Keep windows closed, especially when it is windy and pollen counts are high
Keep the house dry to reduce molds and free of dust
Keep pets and plants outside
Do not permit smoking in your home or car or near your child
Keep air conditioning filters clean
Determine if soaps, laundry detergents, shampoos, etc. have ingredients that cause a reaction and avoid them
Wear gloves when handling any items that cause skin irritation
Replace suspect household cleansers with different cleansers
Talk to your provider before taking any over-the-counter medications, especially if you are also on prescription medicines
What you can expect:
The severity of symptoms will depend in part on how successful you are in avoiding the allergen.
Allergy symptoms can generally be improved with prevention and treatment. Some antihistamines can cause drowsiness.
Decongestants and asthma medicines taken by mouth may cause irritability.
Allergies may go away with time. For some people, they stay around and get worse. For others, they go away and later come back.
Seek immediate medical assistance if you suspect a severe allergic reaction. Symptoms include difficulty breathing; swelling in the head or neck; or lips turning blue. Severe reactions can be life threatening!