Understanding Allergies

Last Updated Jul 22, 2020

Many people today are affected by allergies – around a fifth of the western world. And while we may understand the concept of allergic reactions, there is some misunderstanding about what allergies actually are. So let’s sort fact from fiction and get a clearer understanding of allergies…

What are Allergies?

When something enters your immune system, It triggers a response. When the immune system has an abnormal response to that substance, an allergic reaction occurs.
Allergies can be fairly mild or life-threatening, so it’s important to get tested and see a health care professional as soon as an allergy is suspected.

What Causes Allergies?

The question is – what makes one person’s immune system react badly to a food or object, while another person’s doesn’t? Well, that’s something scientists are still trying to work out.
What they do know is that allergies arise and disappear throughout a person’s life. And while genes and the environment can be a factor, it’s a weaker immune system that causes allergies to flare up.
If your immune system is strong and working efficiently, it will ignore safe environmental elements like food. But if its defenses are down, it can mistaken these objects for immunity attackers. It will then do all it can to rid it from your system, by producing chemicals to banish it from the body. Symptoms of this reaction include swelling and itching, coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath – many of which are symptoms of allergic asthma.

Types of Allergies

Food allergies (such as eggs, milk, nuts, fish, wheat, soy and sulfite) are the most common type, though there are many more. You could have an allergic reaction to:

  1. Dust
  2. Pollen
  3. Animals
  4. Aspirin and other medications
  5. UV light (the sun)
  6. Insect bites
  7. Cosmetics
  8. Nickel
  9. Mold

Treatments for Allergies

There are a few tests you can take to determine whether you have allergies, what you’re allergic too and how severe the reaction is.
Allergy testing is one way, although skin testing is the most common. This can be done with a small pin containing allergy-provoking substances, which is then placed under the skin to test reactions. Another skin test is patch testing, although blood tests can also be used. 
If an allergic reaction is severe - what’s known as anaphylaxis – medication is needed, as it could save the person’s life if administered immediately.

Originally published on Nov 10, 2014

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