What is an Allergy?
It’s what happens when your immune system reacts to something that’s usually harmless.
The body’s immune system reacts to a normally harmless substance, such as pollen, food, or house dust mite. The body identifies the substance as a threat, and produces an inappropriate, exaggerated response to it. What we are only beginning to understand is what tips the balance in favor of allergy.
Those triggers, which doctors call “allergens,” can include pollen, mold, and animal dander, certain foods, or things that irritate your skin.
Allergies are very common. At least 1 in 5 has one.
What Happens During an Allergic Reaction?
It starts when you come into contact with a trigger that you inhale, swallow, or get on your skin. In response, your body starts to make a protein called IgE, which grabs onto the allergen. Then histamine and other chemicals get released into the blood. That causes the symptoms you notice.
What Are the Symptoms?
Your symptoms depend on how you’re exposed- through the air, your skin, food, or through an insect sting.
If you’ve got a nasal or skin allergy, common symptoms include:
– Itchy, watery eyes
– Itchy, runny nose
– Feeling tired or ill
– Hives (a rash with raised red patches)
Food allergies can also cause:
– Stomach cramps
If an insect sting was the trigger, you’ll have:
– Redness and
– Pain where it stung you.
– Feeling of ill, cold of flue
Symptoms can range from mild to severe. Most go away shortly after the exposure stops.
Mild ones may be almost unnoticeable. You might just feel a little “off.”
Moderate symptoms can make you feel ill, as if you’ve got a cold or even the flu.
Severe allergic reactions are extreme.
Is It Anaphylaxis?
The most severe allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis. It affects your whole body.
Symptoms can include:
– Hives and itching all over
– Wheezing or shortness of breath
– Hoarseness or tightness in the throat
– Tingling in the hands, feet, lips, or scalp
Anaphylaxis is life-threatening, so call 112 (or what ever your emergency number is) right away. If you have an epinephrine auto-injector, use it and repeat after 5 to 15 minutes if your symptoms haven’t improved. You’ll still need medical care right after you give yourself the shots, even if your symptoms seem to stop, because a delayed reaction could still happen.
Cross-reactivity – a definition
Cross-reactivity occurs where the proteins in one food or substance share characteristics with those in another food or substance. A person who is allergic to one may therefore have positive allergy tests to other foods with similar proteins.
Examples would be:
Some people with peanut allergy can have positive tests to other legumes such as chick peas, kidney beans and green peas. Not everyone with positive tests will actually react to other legumes. Many people who are allergic to the proteins in birch tree and/or grass pollen can also have positive tests to certain plant foods. This is because harmless proteins in fruits, vegetables and nuts are very similar to the pollen proteins. Positive tests to plant foods are common in people with hay fever but they only need to avoid those foods which are actually causing symptoms. The allergy to plant foods caused by this cross-reaction is known as pollen-food syndrome but can also be called oral allergy syndrome.
Some people with cat allergies may also be allergic to pork and other meats because of a rare type of cross-reactive allergy known as pork-cat syndrome. A new study describes the first six cases of pork-cat syndrome documented in the U.S. The syndrome has been established in Europe since the late 1990s. Researchers say the basis for the syndrome appears to be a reaction to a protein of non-primate mammals. Allergic reactions attributed to pork-cat syndrome include itchy mouth, hives, and potentially life-threatening anaphylaxis.
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