Understanding Allergies

Understanding allergies can be difficult. It’s much more than just allergies to the person who is suffering. Unfortunately, the allergic person is sometimes thought of as a complainer. Friends, co-workers, and family may not be sympathetic to how allergies are affecting the individual because symptoms are not always obvious.

Understanding Allergies

The allergic person may appear to be healthy, yet may be suffering from severe headaches or intense fatigue. For the 40 to 50 million Americans like you who suffer from allergies, this disease is very real and very important. In fact, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease has called allergy one of “the major causes of illness and disability in the United States.”

Complications and Chronic Disorders of Allergies

Allergies can sometimes affect many different parts of the body, such as the eyes, nose, sinuses, throat, lungs, and skin. One form of allergy that causes sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, and itching and irritation of the nose and eyes is called hay fever or allergic rhinitis. Hay fever is one of the most common chronic diseases in the United States.

Allergies should be taken seriously because they can lead to other medical complications. For example, people with allergies have a higher risk of infections of the ears or sinuses than do non-allergic people.

Allergies can also lead to other serious chronic disorders, such as asthma. People with asthma have troublesome symptoms of coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath, which can be disabling or even fatal.

Are Allergies Inherited?

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A common question often asked is, why do some people get allergies while other people do not? Medical researchers think that people inherit a tendency to develop allergies from one or both parents. That does not mean that children will develop the exact same allergies as their parents.

Once the allergic trait has been inherited, specific allergies develop with time and exposure. Sometimes allergies develop after a large exposure to an allergen when normal body defenses were weakened. This could happen during an infection or pregnancy, for example.

What Triggers Allergic Reactions?

Allergy symptoms are caused by a specific response by the immune system after exposure to a substance. Because these substances set
off allergic reactions, they are called “allergens” or “triggers”.

The immune system is vital to protecting us from outside threats, such as bacteria or viruses that can cause harm and disease on their own. The substances that trigger an allergic reaction in one person can be completely harmless to another non-allergic person.

For this reason, many allergic reactions are like false alarms. The immune system attacks the allergen as if it is a dangerous invader, and causes symptoms and related problems.

Many types of allergens from different sources can cause allergies.

Taking Control of Your Allergic Disease

It is sometimes hard to tell if you have allergies or just a cold. Recognizing patterns of allergies can be an important step in taking control of them.

The first question to ask yourself is: how long have you had your symptoms? Cold symptoms usually last a week or two. If you have a runny nose, cough, sneezing, and other symptoms that last longer, you may have allergies.

Another question to ask is: are there any patterns to when symptoms occur? Do you only have them at certain times of year? Do you only get them after you’ve been in a particular place, like a damp basement, or come into contact with something out of the ordinary, like a friend’s pet or someone wearing strong perfume? Do you feel better when you go away on vacation?

When and Where Do You Notice Symptoms

Do symptoms seem worse when you are in one particular room of your house? Do symptoms seem worse in the morning or at night? Do you feel better or worse on a rainy day?

Some people may be able to answer those questions easily. For many other people, there does not seem to be any pattern when symptoms occur and figuring it out can be harder. That’s why it is important for you to work closely with your doctor to figure out whether you have an allergic problem and then develop a plan of care that will be best for you. As part of this process, your primary care doctor may refer you to see a specialist to help with diagnosis and treatment decisions.