Common Allergies and How to Avoid Them
“Cleanliness is next to godliness.”
In fact, the cleaner you are, the better you look. However, there are those who still believe that dirt can protect them against allergies.
David Strachan, an epidemiologist, proposed the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ in 1989. He hypothesised that people in the modern age have become more hygienic and have lesser chances of catching infections. This predisposes them to develop more allergies, probably due to a weak immune system. Thus, it was said that the price of a massive reduction in infant mortality is a weakened immune system.
Though the theory doesn’t quite add up, the notion spread like wildfire among the general public.
It has now been proven that childhood infections don’t necessarily have an effect on the development of allergies. Also, by the time this theory came into being, most metropolitans were more than 5 decades into their cleanliness initiatives. As most countries have made only marginal changes to their cleanliness plan in the last 60 years, the sudden surge in food allergies in this decade doesn’t make any sense. Then, how does this theory justify the recent swell?
What are Allergies?
An allergy is a result of an unusual or adverse immune response to an otherwise harmless substance. In simple words, allergies occur when a harmless foreign substance causes the immune system to over-react. These substances are called harmless because they do not affect most people but elicit a reaction in only those whose immune systems are susceptible to it.
The substances that trigger allergies are called allergens and can be present in just about anything - from dust mites and moulds to pets or foods like nuts. Some people are allergic to medicines as well. Allergies are usually chronic and can last a lifetime.
What Causes Allergies?
The hypersensitive immune response of a body towards a substance causes allergy. This substance is, thus, labelled as an allergen for that person. After the first bout of allergy, the body starts producing proteins that act as a protector against such allergens. These proteins, called antibodies, detect and deactivate allergens. The consequence of this process is the immune systems chemicals that are released into the bloodstream, resulting in allergy symptoms.
Here are a few common allergens:
- Insect Stings: Like bee sting or wasp sting
- Certain Food Items: Especially, eggs, milk, shellfish, soy, wheat, tree nuts, peanuts and the likes
- Exposure to tangible allergens: Latex or other tangible substances that might cause allergic skin reactions
- Drugs: Especially, penicillin and penicillin-derived antibiotics
- Airborne Substances: Such as mould, dust mites, pet dander, pollen
There are certain risk factors associated with the development of various allergies. Some of them are listed below:
- Atophy, the genetic tendency to develop allergies
- Family History of allergies, like hives, hay fever, eczema
- Age, as children more than vulnerable to allergies in comparison to adults
- Presence of asthma
Symptoms and Complications
The symptoms of allergies depend on the allergen. These symptoms can inflame your sinuses, airways and nasal passages and affect the digestive system and skin. However, the severity of these symptoms can vary from mild to acute. In severe cases, allergies might even escalate into a potentially fatal reaction known as anaphylaxis. Here are a few common symptoms of various allergies:
- Allergic Rhinitis, generally called Hay Fever, is known to cause:
- Runny, stuffy nose
- Itching of the roof of the mouth, nose or eyes
- A food allergy might cause:
- Oral Tingling
- Swelling of face, lips, tongue or throat
- If you have an insect sting allergy, the symptoms may be:
- Swelling at the area of sting
- Shortness of breath, chest tightness or cough
- Itching all over the body
- An allergy due to a medicine may cause :
- Facial swelling
- Itchy skin
Complications The risk of developing other medical problems increases if you have an allergy. These medical conditions may be:
Having asthma or allergic rhinitis can increase the risk of developing sinusitis and ear or lung infections.
A simple allergy can turn into a full-blown asthma attack, especially if your allergy affects your airways. In most cases, this asthma is a reaction to allergens; hence, it is called allergy-induced asthma.
As anaphylaxis is a life-threatening emergency, it can cause you to go into a shock. Here are a few symptoms:
- Severe shortness of breath
- Skin rash
- Nausea and vomiting
- A drop in blood pressure
- A rapid, weak pulse
- Loss of consciousness
How To Avoid Allergies?
While most allergies can't be cured, there are various treatments that can help provide relief.
Despite the range of treatments, precaution is always better than cure. And, the best way to prevent allergies is to avoid the allergens.
But, that’s easier said than done. As it is impossible to avoid outdoor activities (even if you are an agoraphobic), it isn’t easy to avoid allergens. However, there is always a way around it, the only requirement is an allergy action plan that depends on the type of allergy a person has.
Also, keeping handy the necessary medicines and (ointment for stings, inhaler for asthma, antihistamine tablets, etc.) can take you a long way in preventing the symptoms from escalating.
If you know your allergy triggers, then avoiding them is the best way to prevent a reaction. For instance, if you are allergic to pollen, then staying inside during pollen high is a better idea.
On the other hand, if you don’t know your triggers, then keeping a journal and tracking your activities can help you and your doctor in identifying the cause of your allergy.
Instead of believing cooked-up theories, look for ways to avoid and treat allergies. The causes may be innumerable, but the solution is only one - awareness.