Allergies, learn more to suffer less

Guest Article by Gerald Crawford

One out of every three; that’s the number of people who suffer from allergies. There are a lot of remedies out there to treat the symptoms, but none really work long term. It’s not all bad, though. Every day we learn more about allergies. New discoveries are made and studies are being done.

Until a cure is discovered, allergy sufferers can do a number of things to improve their quality of life. We’ll talk about a few of them (tips, medications, even jewelry options!) in this article.

Definition of Allergies

“I have an allergy” is what we say when our immune system reacts abnormally to something that is completely harmless to most everyone else. This hypersensitivity gets our immune system in an uproar in an attempt to protect the body from what it perceives as a threat..

That’s when your eyes itch and water; your nose runs out of control; your throat gets that dry, scratchy feeling; your sinuses start to swell; your skin starts to itch and you either develop a rash or a case of hives. Life becomes uncomfortable to say the least. And it happens again and again, each time you are exposed to the allergen, your body will react.

Common Symptoms

Different people react in different ways to different allergens. Sometimes you can have a mild reaction to an allergen and the more you are exposed, the more severe the reaction becomes. Consult an allergist or general physician when you experience anything more than a mild reaction to an allergen.

Mild reactions include:

Sneezing
Itchy eyes
Runny nose

Moderate reactions include:

Mild rash
Mild hives
Sinus headaches
Itchy, scratchy throat

Severe reactions include:

Rash
Hives
Difficulty swallowing
Difficulty breathing
Swelling of lips
Dizziness
Loss of consciousness

Allergy Sufferers; Who Are We?

Although we’re not sure why some of us develop allergies to some things while other people do not, we do know that the propensity to become allergic to something is genetic. Basically, if your parents are allergic to something, you might be allergic to the same thing; not a guarantee, but more likely to happen.

An interesting allergy fact is that even if you are not allergic to a particular substance right now, you might develop an allergy to it later on. The reverse is true as well. So for instance, I was not allergic to pollen as a child, never had hay fever or itchy eyes from it, yet today, I as much as look at a mote of pollen and I have a sneezing fit. Sound strange? It shouldn’t. It happens to a lot of people.

One fascinating pattern that we’ve noticed include is that boys are more likely to be allergy sufferers than girls, but young ladies are more likely to have asthma than young men. Another is that people living in cities are more likely to suffer from allergies than people who live in more rural areas.

A fact worthy of note is that hay fever and eczema are more common allergic reactions for children in small families. Children in larger families are less likely to suffer from these symptoms because their immune system is constantly exposed to many agents of infection through their siblings (hygiene hypothesis). Their small family counterparts are exposed to fewer, resulting in hypersensitivity.

Common Allergens

Food allergens include:

Dairy (milk, ice cream, etc)
Eggs
Wheat products
Soy
Nuts
Seafood
Fruits (strawberry, mango, peach)

When you eat something that you are allergic to, you might experience the following symptoms:

Rash (small, reddish bumps that look like pimples) around mouth
Hives (raised bumps; bigger than what a bad insect bite would look like) around mouth or anywhere on body)
Vomit)
Abdominal pain)
Bloating)
Diarrhea)
Difficulty swallowing (result of swelling in throat)

The best course of action is to consult a physician, identify the food (process of elimination), and not eat it again.

Airborne allergens include:

Pollen
Dust mites
Animal dander

These are harder to identify. A lot of us have seasonal allergies caused by pollen from trees, flowers, and grass. Try to really pay attention to where you are when you experience hay fever so you can narrow down the culprit.

Dust mites are microscopic insects that live and eat dust. You’re not allergic to the bug, you’re allergic to their waste. The best course of action is to keep dust down in the house by dusting and vacuuming (use a HEPA filter), getting rid of carpets and fabric curtains, and by washing sheets and towels in HOT water. Sometimes medication might be necessary to keep the symptoms at bay. Consult your allergist.

Animal dander is tiny flakes of dead skin that fall off your furry pet. If you have animal dander allergies, the best thing to do is just keep away from fuzzy, furry animals. Sorry.

Chemical allergens include:.

Perfumes
Dyes
Latex products
Laundry detergents
Gold
Nickel

Common reactions include itchiness, fine rash, hives, eczema, and dermatitis. Best thing to do is just stop using them.

Usually you find out you’re allergic to a certain type of metal when you wear a piece of jewelry and your skin becomes irritated at the point of contact. Just because you are allergic to certain metals does not necessarily mean that you cannot wear jewelry. Titanium is a hypoallergenic metal, and this metal has become popular in the form of titanium rings. It does not irritate even the most sensitive skin. Plus it’s very durable and very lightweight and biocompatible. You can find titanium jewelry at fine jewelry stores anywhere.

Medication allergens include:

Penicillin
Aspirin
Cephalosporin

Immediate medical treatment is imperative for medication allergies. Symptoms can be very severe and may not show up until a few days after taking the medicine (it stays in your system for 5-10 days after ingestion). Signs include vomiting, hives, joint pain, difficulty breathing or swallowing, diarrhea, stomach pain, nausea, and dizziness.

Diagnosis

A lot of times, we can self-diagnose. If every time you eat a mango you get a rash around your lips and a huge bellyache, chances are, you are allergic. That said other allergens take a while to figure out. It might take months or years to find what pollen type it is that makes you sneeze all the time. The best and quickest way to find out what it is that is bothering you is to go to an allergist. They can give you skin and blood tests to help identify the specific agent.

Once identified, if you cannot avoid the allergen (airborne ones, for instance), you may need medication or a vaccine.

Allergy Medications

Medicines do not cure the allergy. They simply help mask the symptoms.

Nasal sprays wash out the allergens from the nose, providing relief from cold-like symptoms.

Antihistamines and steroids are other options that help relieve the resulting discomfort suffered by those who are allergic.

Allergy shots where minute amounts of the allergen are injected into the sufferer are another way to help the sufferer build a resistance to the allergen. Over time, the severity of the sufferers symptoms to the allergen will decline.

In cases where allergic reactions are severe and the sufferer is threatened with possible death by anaphylaxis, a shot of epinephrine may be prescribed and carried. A Medic Alert bracelet may be a necessity as well.

Allergy Tip Checklist:

Avoid contact with animals if you are allergic to dander. If you have a pet, keep them away from the bed and the bedroom.
Avoid carpets, curtains, and any unnecessary fabric hanging about in the house. Fabric harbors dust.
Vacuum daily and keep dust to a minimum by dusting frequently; even when something does not look dusty, wipe it anyway; it only takes a minute of time.
Use hypoallergenic mattress covers, sheets and pillow covers.
Wash bedding and towels in HOT water. If your washing machine water does not get hot, add a pot of boiling water to wash cycle.
Stay inside when pollen count is high.
Keep windows shut and use the air conditioner when travelling by car (filters air).
Use perfume and dye free cosmetics and detergents.
Look for hypoallergenic label on products (they are easy to find!).
Wear hypoallergenic jewelry. Titanium is the best option for those with metal sensitive skin.