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Allergies,Immune System
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What Causes Allergies? You have an allergy when your body over reacts to things that don't cause problems for most people. These things are called allergens. Your body' s over reaction to the allergens is what causes symptoms (see the box below for a list of symptoms). For example, sometimes the term "hay fever" is used to describe your body' s allergic reaction to allergens in the air.
Your doctor may want to do an allergy skin test to help determine exactly what is causing your allergy. An allergy skin test puts tiny amounts of allergens onto your skin to see which ones you react to. Once you know which allergens you are allergic to, you and your doctor can make a decision the best treatment. Your doctor may also decide to do a blood test, such as the Radio Allergo Sorbent test (called RAST) or the Immuno Cap test.

Common Allergy Symptoms:
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Itchy nose, eyes and roof of mouth
  • Sneezing
  • Stuffy nose
  • Pressure in the nose and cheeks
  • Ear fullness and popping
  • Dark circles under the eyes

  • What are the most common allergens?
    Pollen from trees, grass and weeds. Allergies that occur in the spring (late April and May) are often due to tree pollen. Allergies that occur in the summer (late May to mid-July) are often due to grass pollen. Allergies that occur in the fall (late August to the first frost) are often due to ragweed.

    Mold. Mold is common where water tends to collect, such as shower curtains, window moldings and damp basements. It can also be found in rotting logs, hay, mulches, commercial peat moss, compost piles and leaf litter. This allergy is usually worse during humid and rainy weather.

    Animal dander. Proteins found in the skin, saliva, and urine of furry pets such as cats and dogs are allergens. You can be exposed to dander when handling an animal or from house dust that contains dander.

    Dust. Many allergens, including dust mites, are in dust. Dust mites are little living creatures found in bed clothes, mattresses, carpeting, strips and upholstered furniture. They live on dead skin cells and other things found in house dust.

    Things that can make your allergy symptoms worse

    • Aerosol sprays
    • Air pollution
    • Cold temperatures
    • Humidity
    • Irritating fumes
    • Tobacco smoke
    • Wind
    How can I avoid allergens? Pollens. Shower or bathe before bedtime to wash off pollen and other allergens in your hair and on your skin. Avoid going outside, especially on dry, windy days. Keep windows and doors shut, and use an air conditioner at home and in your car.

    Mold. You can reduce the amount of mold in your home by removing house plants and by frequently cleaning shower curtains, bathroom windows, damp walls, areas with dry rot and indoor trash cans. Use a mix of water and chlorine bleach to kill mold

    Don't carpet bathrooms or other damp rooms and use mold-proof paint instead of wallpaper. Reducing the humidity in your home to 50% or less can also help. (A dehumidifier can help you do this.)

    Pet dander. If your allergies are severe, you may need to give your pets away or at least keep them outside. Cat or dog dander often collects in house dust and takes 4 weeks or more to die down, so a short-term trial of removing your pet from your home may not help.

    Dust and dust mites. To reduce dust mites in your home, remove drapes, feather pillows, upholstered furniture, nonwashable comforters and soft toys. Replace carpets with linoleum or wood. Polished floors are finest. Mop the floor often with a moist mop and wipe surfaces with a damp cloth. Vacuum regularly with a machine that has a high-efficiency particulate air filter. Vacuum soft furniture and curtains as well as floors. Install an air cleaner with a high-efficiency particulate or electrostatic filter. Wash carpets and upholstery with special cleaners. Wash all bedclothes in hot water (hotter than 130°F) every 7 to 10 days. Don't use mattress pads. Cover mattress and pillows with plastic covers. Lower the dampness in your home.

    What medicines can I take to help relieve my symptoms? Antihistamines help reduce the sneezing, runny nose and itchiness of allergies. They're more useful if you use them before you're exposed to allergens.

    Some antihistamines can cause drowsiness and dry mouth. Others are less likely to cause these side effects, but some of these require a prescription. Ask your doctor which kind is best for you.

    Pseudoephedrine is a decongestant that helps temporarily relieve the stuffy nose of allergies. It is found in many medicines and comes as pills, nose sprays and nose drops. It is best used only for a short time. Nose sprays and drops shouldn't be used for more than 3 days because you can become dependent on them. This causes you to feel even more stopped-up when you try to quit using them.

    You can buy pseudoephedrine without a doctor's prescription. However, decongestants can raise your blood pressure, so it's a good idea to talk to your family doctor before using them, especially if you have high blood pressure.

    Cromolyn sodium is a nasal spray that helps prevent the body's reaction to allergens. Cromolyn sodium is more helpful if you use it before you're exposed to allergens. This medicine may take 2 to 4 weeks to start working. It is available without a prescription.

    Nasal steroid sprays reduce the reaction of the nasal tissues to inhaled allergens. This helps relieve the swelling in your nose so that you feel less stopped-up. They come in nasal sprays that your doctor may prescribe. You won't notice their benefits for up to 2 weeks after starting them.

    Your doctor may prescribe steroid pills for a short time or give you a steroid shot if your symptoms are severe or if other medicines aren't working for you.

    Eye drops. If your other medicines are not helping enough with your itchy, watery eyes, your doctor may prescribe eye drops for you.

    What are allergy shots? Allergy shots (also called immunotherapy) include small amounts of allergens. They're given on a regular schedule so that your body gets used to the allergens and no longer over reacts to them.

    Allergy shots are only used when the allergens you're sensitive to can be identified and when you can't avoid them. It takes a few months to years to finish treatment, and you may need to have treatments throughout your life.

    There are four different types of allergies and therefore it is important to properly diagnose which type of allergy is present in order to arrive at the right treatment.

    Among the factors that decide who suffers from allergies is the presence of allergy genes in the body (when both parents are allergic, the child is predisposed to developing allergies). Other factors are food and environmental triggers, and the status of the health of the bowel, blood and liver.

    Allergies create a variety of symptoms, which is one reason they are difficult to diagnose. Also, standard skin-prick diagnostic tests are often not sufficiently sensitive.

    Even when allergy tests are positive, conventional treatment is usually limited to allergy injection therapy, while the possibility of problems with the blood, liver and bowel are completely ignored.

    For patients who may be suffering from allergies,  a number of tests to arrive at a diagnosis. These can include tests for liver function as well as the Elisa blood test, which is the most accurate method of determining what a patient is allergic to.

    The treatments may possibly include various methods to boost the immune function in the body as well as immunotherapy desensitization and the temporary elimination from the diet of foods that the patient is allergic to.

    Allergy Prevention The best way to prevent an allergy is to recognize that you have one. Often people confuse an allergy with a cold or flu. Remember colds are short-lived and passed from person to person, whereas allergies are immune system reactions to normally harmless substances. Allergies are best prevented by avoiding exposure to allergens in the first place. A good first step to avoiding allergens is to follow the various

    outlined for each allergen or irritant. Signs of an Allergy

    • Sneezing, watery eyes or cold symptoms that last more than 10 days without a fever.
    • Repeated ear and sinus infections.
    • Loss of smell or taste.
    • Frequent throat clearing, hoarseness, coughing or wheezing.
    • Dark circles under the eyes caused by increased blood flow near the sinuses (allergic shines).
    • A crease just above the tip of the nose from constant upward nose wiping (allergic salute).
    House Dust House dust is a component of who you are. House dust is not just dirt but a mixture of potentially allergenic materials, such as:

    • fibers
    • food particles
    • mold spores
    • pollens
    • dust mites
    • plant & insect parts
    • hair, animal fur & feathers
    • dried saliva & urine from pets
    • flakes of human & animal skin
    The more time you spend indoors, particularly in the fall and winter, the greater your exposure to house dust allergens.

    Preventive Strategies

    • Dust rooms thoroughly with a damp cloth at least once a week.
    • Wear protective gloves and a dust mask while cleaning to reduce exposure to dust and cleaning irritants.
    • Use electric and hot water radiant heaters to provide a cleaner source of heat than "blown air" systems.
    • Reduce the number of stuffed animals, wicker baskets, dried flowers and other dust collectors around the house.
    • Replace heavy drapes and blinds with washable curtains or shades.
    • Replace carpets with washable scatter rugs or bare floors.
    Food Allergies Our consumption of food nearly triples during the holiday season. With the scrumptious variety of foods available during the holidays, a food allergy can easily present itself.

    Symptoms of a food allergy can be as simple as skin problems; itchiness, rashes, hives, or intestinal troubles; abdominal pain, diarrhea or vomiting, or as dangerous as swelling of the respiratory passages, shortness of breath, fainting or anaphylactic shock.

    The more common food allergens are:

    • egg
    • milk
    • shellfish
    • peanuts
    • soy
    • wheat
    These foods are often hidden as ingredients in casseroles or desserts. You should be aware of what you are eating, but don't limit your diet to only a few foods since a well balanced diet is best.

    Food Allergies Preventive Strategies

    • Beware of foods that cause you symptoms.
    • If you have had severe reactions to a food, talk to your doctor about carrying an epinephrine injector.
    • Learn to read food labels carefully.
    • When dining out, ask about the ingredients used in preparing the dish before tasting the food.
    • If you experience symptoms, avoid any further contact with that food item, clean your mouth and see a doctor.
    Grass As with tree pollen, grass pollen is regional as well as seasonal. In addition, grass pollen levels can be affected by temperature, time of day and rain.

    Of the 1,200 species of grass that grow in North America, only a small percentage of these cause allergies. The most common grasses that can cause allergies are:

      • Bermuda grass
      • Johnson grass
      • Kentucky bluegrass
      • Orchard grass
      • Sweet vernal grass
      • Timothy grass
      Many people think animal allergies are caused by the fur or feathers of their pet. In fact, allergies are actually aggravated by:
      • proteins secreted by oil glands and shed as dander
      • proteins in saliva (which stick to fur when animals lick themselves)
      • aerosolized urine from rodents and guinea pigs
      Keep in mind that you can sneeze with and without your pet being present. Although an animal may be out of sight, their allergens are not. This is because pet allergens are carried on very small particles. As a result pet allergens can remain circulatlng in the air and remain on carpets and furniture for weeks and months after a pet is gone.
      Preventive Strategies
      • Remove pets from your home if possible.
      • If pet removal is not possible, keep them out of bedrooms and confined to areas without carpets or upholstered furniture.
      • Wear a dust mask and gloves when near rodents.
      • After playing with your pet, wash your hands and clean your clothes to remove pet allergens.
      • Avoid contact with soiled litter cages.
      • Dust often with a damp cloth.

    Ragweed Ragweed and other weeds such as curly dock, lambs quarters, pigweed, plantain, sheep sorrel and sagebrush are some of the most prolific producers of pollen allergens.

      Although the ragweed pollen season runs from August to November, ragweed pollen levels usually peak in Mid September in many areas in the country.

      In addition, pollen counts are highest between 5 - 10 AM and on dry, hot and windy days.

    Preventive Strategies

      • Avoid the outdoors between 5-10 AM. Save outside activities for late afternoon or after a heavy rain, when pollen levels are lower.
      • Keep windows in your home and car closed to lower exposure to pollen. To keep cool, use air conditioners and avoid using window and attic fans.
      • Be aware that pollen can also be transported indoors on people and pets.
      • Dry your clothes in an automatic dryer rather than hanging them outside. Otherwise pollen can collect on clothing and be carried indoors.

    Cockroaches Cockroaches are one of the most common and allergenic of indoor pests.

      These pests are common even in the cleanest of crowded urban areas and older dwellings. They are found in all types of neighborhoods.

      The proteins found in cockroach saliva are particularly allergenic but the body and droppings of cockroaches also contain allergenic proteins.

    Preventive Strategies

      • If you buy trees for your yard, look for species that do not aggravate allergies such as catalpa, crape myrtle, dogwood, fig, fir, palm, pear, plum, redbud and redwood trees.
      • Avoid the outdoors between 5-10 am. Save outside activities for late afternoon or after a heavy rain, when pollen levels are lower.
      • Keep windows in your home and car closed to lower exposure to pollen. To keep cool, use air conditioners and avoid using window and attic fans.
      • Be aware that pollen can also be transported indoors on people and pets.

    The Season for Sneezin' For allergy suffers that's a mixed blessing. One whiff of those backyard blooms you've been cultivating is enough to turn an otherwise normal person into a sniffling, sneezing ton of misery.

    Just what triggers an allergy? It's not so much what  most people can tell you what they're allergic to? It's how.

    An allergy is your body's reaction to a substance that may not affect others at all. Some people break out in a rash after eating strawberries; some have trouble breathing after eating peanuts. These are foods most people enjoy without a problem. But in some people, ordinary items,  foods, pet dander, plant pollen, insect bites or a host of other substances, can cause the body's immune system to try and get rid of what it considers an intruder. It does this by triggering the white blood cells to create antibodies. These antibodies (in this case, IgE antibodies) attach themselves to cells in the nose, eyes, lungs, stomach and intestines, causing them to produce histamine. What histamine does is cause inflammation  of the blood vessels in these areas. The result is a stuffy nose, itchy eyes, sneezing, coughing, itching  you get the picture.

    Allergies are annoying but rarely serious. Many people who have mild allergies only at certain times of the year (like ragweed in the late summer and early fall) control their symptoms with antihistamine products available over the counter or with medications prescribed by their doctor. For those who suffer more often and to a greater degree, there are ways to identify and avoid substances that trigger an allergy attack. Your doctor can identify the cause of your allergies through skin or blood tests. Skin testing is the more common procedure.

    When performing a skin allergen test, the doctor uses diluted liquids that contain common allergy-producing substances. The test can indicate allergies to plant pollens, foods, mold, even those dust mites that lurk in the corners of our homes. In the test, an area of your body (usually your back) is lightly scratched with a needle and a drop of allergen applied. The scratches that become red and itchy are those containing substances to which you are allergic.

    For people with allergies to many common substances or those for whom antihistamines don't work well, the doctor may recommend immunotherapy  a series of shots to help build an immunity to the allergen. These shots are subcutaneous, injections given with a very thin needle between the first two layers of the skin of your forearm. Immunotherapy does not work well for people with food allergies, but it has proven effective for those with allergies to substances that can't be avoided, such as trees, animals and insects.

    Anaphylaxis A small percentage of people with allergies experience what is called an anaphylactic reaction. This is a sudden and very severe reaction. It is an crisis situation that requires panctual medical attentiveness. The onset of symptoms is usually immediate and sometimes includes a metallic taste in the mouth. Other signs are tingling sensations, a sudden feeling of warmness, swelling of the throat and difficulty breathing, vomiting, diarrhea or cramping.

    Anaphylaxis is most often caused by allergies to food or insect bites. Common food allergens are peanuts and tree nuts such as walnuts and cashews, shellfish, fish, milk and eggs. Even the smallest amount of these foods can cause a severe reaction. People with food allergies should always check labels carefully when shopping. 

    Yellow jackets, hornets, wasps, fire ants and other common stinging insects can cause life-threatening reactions even in people who have never been stung before. Severe swelling, nausea and difficulty breathing can occur within minutes. Immediate medical attention is important.

    Epinephrine is the substance used to halt an anaphylactic reaction. It is sometimes followed with an antihistamine, but an antihistamine alone won't work. For people with known severe allergic reactions, there are emergency epinephrine kits available through prescription that can be kept on hand.

    Wearing a medical-alert bracelet noting your allergies (including those to medications) could be a lifesaver. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist about the best preventive measures.

    Allergies and Asthma: Asthma, a respiratory disease, is on the increase in the younger population. According to the Centers for Disease Control, asthma affects nearly 5 million young people under the age of 18 and is the third-ranking cause of hospitalization among those younger than 15.

    An asthma attack, with its wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightening, is often the triggered by exposure to an allergen. In an allergenic asthma attack, as in other asthmatic episodes, it is the body's airways that are affected. While the histamine produced by the allergen exposure is causing the bronchial tissues to become swollen, the asthma is causing the outer muscles of the airway to constrict (tighten). Mucus then forms in the airways, further restricting breathing.

    Asthma cannot be cured, but it can be controlled. Removing possible allergens from your environment can go a long way toward reducing the number of allergy-triggered attacks.

    Allergy-proof Your Home: Allergic reactions to plants and trees can be controlled. Just stay indoors. But what do you do when it is what's in your house that is making you sick? Dust mites, mold and animal dander (which is not pet fur but a protein found in animal saliva, urine and flaky skin) are common allergens found in almost every home. Here are some simple steps to help allergy-proof your home; In the Bedroom

      • Avoid down comforters, and replace feather pillows with hypoallergenic rubber.
      • Wash all bedclothes at least once a week in hot water.
      • Purchase allergen-proof mattress covers.

    Throughout the House

      • The dust mite, microscopic cousin to the spider, thinks of your carpet as a nice, soft bed. Choose carpeting that has a very low pile, such as Berber.  Wash throw rugs regularly  in hot water. And never place carpeting over concrete. That combination is a dust mites best friend.
      • Replace dust-loving venetian blinds with washable sheer or semi-sheer draperies.
      • Avoid having too many knick-knacks around the house. The more knick-knacks, the more places for dust to settle.
      • Houseplants are a prime source of mold. Have few, if any, in the house.


      • While it is not possible to avoid all trees and plants you are allergic to, you can make your own yard more allergen-friendly by removing any plants known to trigger an attack.
      • Bees are attracted to brightly colored flowers, especially those that are blue, purple yellow or white. They are less attracted to the color red. Try planting chrysanthemums, red dianthus, geraniums, red strawflowers or roses.
      • Dont wear perfume or aftershave in the spring and summer. The bees will think you areflower and make a beeline for you.
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