An allergy is an exaggerated response that your body’s immune system executes in retaliation to contact with foreign material – pollen, bee venom, nuts, etc. – that doesn’t occur in normal population of people. The severity of an allergic reaction can vary from a potentially life threatening condition called anaphylaxis, to benign symptoms such as rash, sneezing, diarrhea etc.
Different foreign substances that can trigger an allergic reaction in sensitized individuals are:
- Airborne allergens: pollen, dander, dust, spores, smoke
- Food: peanut, other nuts, wheat, soy, eggs, milk, shellfish
- Insect bites: bee, wasp
- Drugs: penicillin and other antibiotics
Risk factors include positive family history, childhood age, any pre-existent allergic condition such as asthma or eczema.
The body’s immune response leads to inflammation, specifically in the skin, sinuses, respiratory system and the digestive system. Following symptoms can arise upon contact with different types of allergens:
- Food Allergy: Tingling around oral cavities, swelling of lips, tongue or throat, hives, anaphylaxis
- Insect Bite Allergy: Swelling, itching, cough, chest tightness, difficulty breathing, anaphylaxis
- Drug Allergy: Hives, itchy skin, generalized or local rash, wheezing, anaphylaxis
Two allergic conditions with a variety of triggers are:
- Eczema or Atopic Dermatitis: Itching, redness, flaky skin
- Allergic Rhinitis or Hay Fever: Sneezing, congestion, runny stuffy nose, itchy mouth or eyes, watery eyes or conjunctivitis.
Evaluation of an allergy is conducted by gathering relevant patient history, physical exams and certain tests such as skin test and blood tests to analyze the immune response of the body.
The best way to manage a known allergy is to avoid the triggering allergen. There is no complete cure but symptoms can be managed by:
- Medication: Anti-histamines, Mast Cell stabilizers, Corticosteroids, etc.
- Epinephrine injections (for anaphylactic shocks)