An allergy is an extreme response by your immune system, usually to a normal substance such as pollen, dust mites, animal proteins, molds, certain foods and even some medications. You can get an allergy at any age and some people grow out of an allergy if they had it as a child.
Approx 10-30% of people in the Western World have some type of allergy, and this figure is slowly increasing. If one parent has an allergy, your risk factor increases by 33%. If both parents do, the risk factor is 70% higher.
Allergens are actually harmless; it’s your immune system that triggers the reaction. In fact, you may have been around a particular allergen before with no problem, but sometimes your body decides to identify it as an invader. Your immune system “studies” the allergen and develops antibodies to deal with it. This makes you sensitized to that particular allergen, so the next time you come into contact with it, you’ll have a reaction.
The special defensive cells (known as mast cells) flood your body with chemicals such as histamines that create allergic symptoms, including a runny nose and a swollen nose. You could also break out in hives.
How badly you react can vary with time and exposure. For example, if you’re allergic to bee stings, you may be ok if just one bee stung you, but if two did, your body would react badly. The more frequently you got stung or exposed, the more severe the reaction might become.
On the other hand, as time passes, you could grow out of that phase and not have a reaction at all. Another example is mosquito bites. As a child your ears, eyes, nose and lips may swell up whenever you’re stung. Once you grow up, you may not react to the stings of even a dozen mosquitoes.
You can also develop more than one allergy and they may be related. You may be allergic to a certain food and a type of pollen. If you ate that food when the pollen was around, you would be hit doubly hard. This is called an oral allergy syndrome.
If you suffer from allergies you must never ignore them. They don’t disappear without treatment and they could become a lot worse over time. Allergies can turn into sinus infections, ear infections and even full-blown asthma.
You also need to avoid your allergy triggers where possible. If it’s food, don’t eat that food. Many people are allergic to nuts. That’s why most companies in the food industry display warnings when they sell foods that may contain traces of nuts. If it’s an atmosphere allergy, you have to try and stay inside whenever it is possible. Minimize your time out in the wind, when the allergens get blown around.
Allergies are just as serious as other medical conditions, and must be treated that way. Your doctor will give you solid advice regarding the best treatments and ways to handle your specific allergy; if you follow that good advice, your life will become much easier to manage.