What are Allergies?
Allergies develop as the human body is constantly exposed to “attacks” from different stimuli in the surrounding environment. These antigens can be anything, from dust and pollen to bacteria and viruses. When antigens enter the body, the immune system reacts in order to protect the body from infections. However, in some cases it overreacts to substances that are harmless. This hypersensitivity is called an Allergic Reaction, ie allergies.
There are many substances that can cause allergies. These substances, called allergens, can be anything from dust and pollen to medications, toxins, food, insect venom or bacteria. The allergy may cause small area effects, such as itches or rashes, or can extend in the whole body. Although it is very common and in most cases harmless, allergies can also be severe enough to cause death of the patient, especially in cases of allergies to medications.
While allergies can occur in almost any person, they are more common in people with a family history of allergies. This condition may remain latent in the human body until the person is exposed to the triggering allergen, and it may take some time for the triggering factor to be identified. In some cases, the allergies are caused by repeated exposure to a certain allergen – for example, repeated contact with poison ivy – however most allergies are instant, affecting the patient as soon as they are exposed to the allergen.
Also, certain medical conditions may affect the probability of developing allergies. Sensitive skin, nasal polyps, asthma, lung conditions that affect breathing or frequent infections of the nasal sinuses, respiratory tract or ears are just a few conditions that may increase the risk of allergies.
You may also enjoy watching this short video explaining in laymen's terms what allerigies are:
Symptoms of Allergies
Many symptoms may be associated with allergies. The symptoms vary from one individual to another, and while some are minor, there are more serious symptoms that may occur. In most cases, the reaction will cause a combination of symptoms, either localized or affecting the whole body. The allergy may affect the skin, eyes, lungs, head or stomach, and range from mild rashes and reddening of the skin to body aches, nausea, breathing problems and even unconsciousness. Some of the allergies symptoms affect the patient just for as long as he or she is exposed to the allergen, however in other cases the reaction can last for prolonged periods of time.
In some cases, allergies may cause effects strong enough for the patient to go into shock, especially in cases where the symptoms are sudden and violent. Shock is defined by a rapid decrease in blood pressure caused by a dilation of the blood vessels (especially large ones) causing an insufficiency of blood in the internal organs. Shock may lead to death if the patient is not immediately taken under medical care. The symptoms of shock differ from one person to another, causing several effects in the patient. The person may be red or pale, dry or sweaty, anxious, confused or unconscious, and may have trouble breathing.
Apart from shock, allergies may have other life-threatening effects, and it is advised that you contact your health care specialist immediately in order for the situation to be evaluated. Any sudden, violent and generalized outbursts should be promptly brought to the attention of qualified medical personnel, and the victim transported to the nearest hospital for emergency assistance.
Allergies are commonly treated with medication – however the allergen must be removed from the patient’s environment before any kind of treatment is administered. In some cases, where the symptoms are severe, treatment may also consist of intravenous fluids (especially in cases with high risk of shock). If the patient presents severe breathing problems, it is recommended that the treatment also includes oxygen therapy. Hospitalization may be in order for patients with very severe reactions. In the case of mild allergies, home treatment can be applied.
For rashes and itching there are several non-prescription anti-inflammatory creams available (such as hydrocortisone). Oral antihistamines (for example diphenhydramine) can be self-administered, however it is highly advised that you carefully read the drug information for any side effects that may appear, and also for the recommended dose. Any kind of self-medication should be carefully considered and should not in any way exceed the recommended dosage.
Prescription medication is also available in a very large array, depending on the type and severity of allergies that needs to be treated. Long term allergies such as those to dust, animal hair or hay fever can be treated with long-acting antihistamines, which are usually prescribed for long periods of time. Examples of such medications are loratadine (Claritin), cetirizine (Zyrtec) or fexofenadine (Allegra), and typically they need to be taken once every 24 hours. This type of treatment may be complemented by nasal corticosteroid sprays, as they help relieve nasal symptoms that may not be treated with antihistamines. Such medication as triamcinolone (Nasacort), fluticasone (Flonase) or mometasone (Nasonex) is very safe, lacking the side effects of oral or injection based steroids, and although it may take a few days for the effect to appear, they are generally very effective in relieving nasal allergic symptoms.
For patients with high risk of shock from allergies, the usual procedure is to immediately administer Epinephrine or a similar drug. This acts as a bronchodilator and at the same time it constricts the blood vessels, aiding in increasing blood pressure. In less severe cases, this treatment can be replaced by an inhalation of regular bronchodilators – similar to asthma treatment.
Antihistamines are also administered to treat allergies. Drugs such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), that are administered orally in less severe cases, can be injected IV or in muscular tissue to immediately reverse the effects of histamine. In most Allergic Reaction cases, corticosteroids are the main class of medication employed to fight the symptoms. In severe cases, an IV injection of corticosteroids is administered as it will immediately reverse the effect of mediators. Generally, this type of medication will effectively fight a large number of the symptoms caused by allergies and they are also prescribed for less severe cases, either as oral treatment, nasal sprays or creams for relieving skin rashes or itching. Also, treatment with other drugs and medications may be prescribed to fight allergies. If you need more information on these, ask your personal health care specialist, a nurse or pharmacist as they will be able to provide you with supplementary information about allergies.
More on allergies
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