You go outside as the weather begins to change. The cold bite of winter has left the air and things are beginning to grow again. But there it is. You see it. A yellow powder covering your car. Pollen. You run back inside, but it’s too late. You’ve been exposed. Your nose starts to run and you begin to sneeze. It’s that time of year again: Allergy season.
Or maybe your eyes water and itch whenever you’re around an animal, or you swell up badly if you eat a certain food or get stung by a bee. All of these are allergies too. But what exactly are allergies and why do some people have them and others don’t?
Well, it all depends on your immune system. Some people’s immune systems are more sensitive to some substances than the immune systems of other people. Your best friend may be able to pick a flower and enjoy the smell, or pet a dog and suffer no consequences, but doing either of those things may trigger a reaction in you. This just means that your immune system is weaker to these allergens than your friend’s. When your immune system senses these substances that it thinks are harmful it produces a chemical called histamine to counteract them. This is why most allergy sufferers get a runny noses, itchy or watery eyes, or even swell up when they come in contact with an allergen.
There are several different types of allergies, and some have different symptoms than others.
Food allergies are triggered when a person with the allergy either ingests, or comes into contact with, the food they are allergic to. Some major food allergies are allergies to eggs, milk, peanuts, and shellfish, but it is certainly not limited to that. Reactions for food allergies include vomiting, stomach cramps, hives, shortness of breath, cough, swollen throat and/or tongue, dizzy feeling, and occasionally anaphylaxis.
These allergies are most commonly associated with cats and dogs, but it extends to include other animals, too. The allergy to pets comes from various different things on the pet, including their skin, their hair, and their saliva. The symptoms of pet allergies include sneezing, runny nose, watery and itchy eyes, skin rash, and swelling in the throat.
This type of allergies is often referred to as, “Hay Fever.” It is triggered by the pollen from plants aggravating the sinuses of the affected person. There are several different types of pollen allergies, but the most common is an allergy to ragweed. This type of allergy causes runny nose, sneezing, coughing, fatigue, stuffy nose, watery eyes, and itchy skin (if the affected person comes into contact with the pollen).
This type of allergy is triggered by the presence of different molds. Mold is one of the hardest things to avoid as it can grow just about anywhere. Its symptoms are the same as those of pollen allergies.
This type of allergy is especially dangerous to asthma sufferers. It really isn’t the dust itself that triggers allergic reactions in people, it’s what the dust is made of. Dust often contains dust mites, mold, pollen, and pet hair in it so it can trigger the allergies of anyone suffering from those. These allergies cause sneezing, runny nose, stuffy nose, sore throat, coughing, itching, and watery eyes.
Insect allergies are most commonly found in the form of allergies to insect stings. Bees, hornets, wasps, yellow jackets, and ants are the most common culprits of insect sting allergies. This allergy can be extremely dangerous because, like food allergies, it can cause anaphylaxis. Its other symptoms include pain, redness, and swelling in the stung area and that surround it; hives; flushing; and itching.
Fabric/Material Allergies (Latex, Cotton, etc.)
Coming into contact with the fabric or material you have an allergy to can cause a reaction. If you wear a cotton shirt and you have a cotton allergy, then you are likely to suffer from symptoms of an allergic reaction. The symptoms of this type of allergy causes skin rashes, swelling, and sometimes asthma-like symptoms.
Some allergies are only active during certain times of the year, such as pollen allergies. But others, such as pet allergies, dust allergies, food allergies, and insect allergies are year round. People with these year round allergies need to take precautions to avoid the substances that cause them to have an allergic reaction. For example, you get regular allergy shots that can lessen the severity of your reactions to allergens. That doesn’t mean, though, that you should interact with the allergens after your shot as they are still harmful to you.
Stay healthy out there,
Tim Reynolds, M.D.