Allergy: Symptoms, Treatment and More

Allergies are common. Especially in industrialized countries, many people suffer from symptoms when they come into contact with harmless substances. Depending on the trigger and type of allergy, allergies can cause only mild skin reactions and life-threatening symptoms. There are allergies to a wide variety of substances. However, an allergic reaction is always the same: the body’s immune system reacts too strongly.

Common allergies

It is estimated that almost 30 percent of Europeans suffer from at least one allergy. Women are affected more often than men and younger people more often than older people. Life in the big city and a high standard of living increase the risk of developing an allergy. The most common allergic diseases include:

house dust allergy

Dust allergies can cause inflammation in the nasal passages and sinuses, leading to symptoms like congestion, a runny nose, and sneezing. An excellent way to treat these allergies is by cleaning your home. One way to do this is by dusting frequently and thoroughly (not weekly, not daily, but at an appropriate interval), washing bedding often, and vacuuming frequently. This will remove house dust mite allergens from your carpet and bedding, thereby helping prevent allergy symptoms.

In the case of house dust allergy, the immune system reacts excessively to house dust mite faeces. Learn more about symptoms and therapy!

When dealing with allergies, you may feel like you’re living in a haze. Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, is a common allergy brought on by pollen, dust, mold, or pets. Hay fever occurs when the body reacts to substances in the air, causing symptoms such as sneezing, a runny nose, and itchy, watery eyes. Left untreated can lead to more severe complications such as asthma or sinus infections.

Hay fever (pollen allergy) is a hypersensitivity of the immune system to proteins from certain plant pollen. Read more about hay fever.

Asthma is a respiratory disease that causes inflammation and narrowing of the airways in the lungs. It is characterized by shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, coughing, and, sometimes, periods of not breathing (apnea). Asthma affects people of all ages and ethnicities, though it tends to occur more often in people who have allergies, are smokers, or have other respiratory conditions.

When it comes to diseases, asthma is one of the most well-known. Asthma affects more than 25 million people in the U.S., and one in four American children (or 5.5 million) have asthma. There are two types of asthma: allergic and non-allergic, which affect different people differently. Finding the best asthma treatment is essential, as not knowing your type of asthma can make unnecessary and risky decisions. Please read all about the disease, its consequences, and treatment options.

Most people will experience some degree of discomfort from foods that can trigger an allergic response. Usually, the space around or above the nasal passages becomes swollen and itchy. Although there is no cure for food allergies, you may prevent symptoms and lessen reactions by avoiding the foods that cause a reaction.

Food allergies are rare but can be life-threatening. How to recognize the disease and how to get the allergy under control.

What is an allergy?

An allergic reaction is the excessive response of the immune system to contact with a harmless, exogenous substance. The immune system is capable of learning and typically knows which foreign substances are harmful and which are not. However, in the case of an allergy, this distinction no longer works properly. Instead of ignoring the harmless foreign material, the body mobilizes its defenses in the event of an allergy. Symptoms such as swollen mucous membranes, itching, shortness of breath, or even a circulatory collapse are possible consequences of this immune reaction. The triggering substances (allergens) themselves do not cause any direct damage.

Other allergic diseases

The immune system can attack countless allergens, with certain foreign substances triggering allergies more often than others. In addition to the widespread allergic diseases already mentioned, numerous others exist. These include those in which an allergic reaction is one of several possible disease triggers. Examples are:

Allergy: symptoms

An allergy can manifest itself through various symptoms. They occur locally or all over the body. This includes:

 

If an allergic reaction of the immediate type affects the entire organism, the worst-case scenario is anaphylactic shock. This is life-threatening.

Allergy: treatment

An allergy can manifest itself through various symptoms. They occur locally or all over the body. This includes:

 

If an allergic reaction of the immediate type affects the entire organism, the worst-case scenario is anaphylactic shock. This is life-threatening.

Avoid allergens

For allergy sufferers, therapy consists primarily of avoiding known allergens. Unfortunately, in many cases, this is only possible to a limited extent, such as with hay fever.

Medication

Certain medications suppress the immune system or inhibit the release of inflammatory substances. That relieves the discomfort. They can be administered either in the form of tablets or injections, affecting the entire body. Or they are used specifically for a specific area of ​​the body – for example, in asthma sprays, nasal sprays, or eye drops.

Some sufferers would like to fight their allergies with alternative methods. They try, for example, to alleviate allergy symptoms with homeopathic remedies, acupuncture, or Bach flowers. However, asthma, in particular, must be consistently monitored by a doctor and usually also treated with conventional medicine so that the lungs are not damaged in the long term. Alternative methods can only be used here as a supplement.

Note:

Alternative medical concepts and their specific effects are sometimes controversial and not clearly proven by studies. If your symptoms worsen, consult your doctor.

Although allergy medication cannot eliminate the oversensitivity of the immune system, it can alleviate the symptoms. Read more about allergy medication here! Allergy medication does not eliminate the over-sensitivity of the immune system but does lessen the symptoms. Read more about allergy medication here!

Combat causes

However, many sufferers wonder whether allergies can be cured. There is an allergy therapy that tackles the cause. This so-called hyposensitization cannot prevent the immune system from identifying an allergen as a threat. However, it reduces the immune response so that the patient has only weak allergy symptoms or, in the best case, no allergy symptoms. 

Prevent

The predisposition to an allergy is inherited. Nevertheless, some measures reduce the likelihood that allergic symptoms will occur. For example, we know that smoking during pregnancy and breastfeeding dramatically increases the risk of allergies for the child. Nutrition and the psyche also play a role. You can find out more about allergy prevention measures here.

Desensitization is a treatment method for immediate-type allergies. Read everything you need to know about the therapy here!

Immunosuppression (IH-myoo-noh-suh-PREH-shun) is a medical condition that results from an immune deficiency. When the immune system is suppressed, the body becomes vulnerable to various infections and diseases. This may be due to the body’s inability to produce or respond to specific immune system components. Immunosuppression can be caused by multiple medical conditions, including autoimmune diseases, cancer, and drug therapy.

Immunosuppression is the suppression of the body’s defense system. It can be the result of an illness or therapy. Read all about it!

Allergy: causes

An allergic reaction to an allergen only occurs if the immune system has previously had contact with this foreign material. At the first contact, however, there is still no sign of an allergy. Symptoms only appear when the immune system comes into contact with the allergen again.

The process by which the immune system recognizes a foreign substance for the first time and evaluates it as “threatening” is called sensitization. Different allergies develop depending on what the immune system becomes sensitized to. The causes of this misdirected alignment of the body’s defenses are still being discussed in specialist circles.

Genetic predisposition

It is undisputed that genetic factors play a role in the development of an allergy. Children whose father and/or mother suffer from allergies have an increased risk of various allergies. In addition, the more and longer someone is exposed to possible allergens (e.g., at work), the more likely they are to develop an allergy to them, especially if they are predisposed to it. On the other hand, excessive hygiene, especially in childhood, can harm the risk of allergies. Studies show, for example, that children who grow up on farms are less likely to develop allergies and asthma than city children.

At any age

Sometimes this happens early. In other people, an allergy does not develop until adulthood. Children’s immune systems are not as mature as adults. They are therefore more prone to allergies, especially food allergies, which often disappear again over a few years.

The most common forms of allergy in children are hay fever, allergic asthma, and neurodermatitis. Read more about the topic!

Itching, sniffling, and dripping – read here what triggers most allergies.

Allergy: Diagnosis

The doctor can check whether and – if so – which allergies exist with special allergy tests. The patient is exposed to various allergens, and the body’s reaction is observed. Of course, this is done controlled and only in small quantities.

The following allergy tests are commonly used:

  • Blood test: The immune system forms specific antibodies against the supposedly harmful allergens. These can be detected in the blood. They are called IgE antibodies. In the case of some allergies, the immune system forms special defense cells instead. The so-called lymphocyte transformation test can detect them.
  • Patch test: Special patches of skin are applied to the patient’s back or forearm, to which possible energy triggers are applied. If the patient is allergic to a substance, the skin reacts with redness, swelling, or blisters.
  • Prick test: Like the patch test, the prick test is a skin test . The doctor drips allergens onto the inside of the forearm and then scratches the skin with a fine lancet. In the case of an allergy, redness, itching, or wheal formation occurs.
  • Intradermal test: The intradermal test works similarly to the skin prick test and is suitable for weak allergens. These are injected directly under the skin on the back.
  • Provocation test: In the case of food allergies, the so-called provocation test is used more frequently. The patient breathes in a small amount of the allergen – the doctor then measures the lung function.
Everything these days comes with warnings and disclaimers. Food labels, restaurant menus, and store shelves are dotted with warnings to be cautious, and allergy tests are everywhere. And for a good reason. Each year food allergies cause over 50,000 ER visits, 300 deaths, and $3 billion in medical costs. Having to be tested for allergies has increased, too. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, Forty-five million Americans are allergic.
Allergy tests are different procedures that the dermatologist can use to diagnose an allergy. Find out all about it here!

Patch testing (also known as a “skin test”) is a simple way to test for allergies to individual skincare products. It’s done by placing a single drop of a diluted allergen (such as fragrance or a natural ingredient) on a skin patch for 24 hours. Then, if the skin turns red, swollen, itchy, patchy, or bumpy, it’s a good bet that you have an allergy to that ingredient.

The patch test is a so-called provocation test. It is determined whether and which substances cause a contact allergy. Read all about it!
A skin test is called a skin prick test. Above all, allergies of the immediate type (type I) can be detected with it. Learn all about it!

Allergy Types

Allergies can be divided into different types, depending on the mechanism of the immune response and how long it takes after exposure to an allergen for the first symptoms to appear. The classification, according to Coombs and Gell, distinguishes four types of allergies:

Allergy: type 1 (immediate type)

Here the symptoms usually appear within a few minutes or even seconds, but at the latest, after half an hour. Specific immune cells bind to the allergens using antibodies and release pro-inflammatory substances (including histamine). Typical examples of type 1 allergies are allergies to pollenanimal hair, or insect venom.

Allergy: type 2 (cytotoxic type)

Here the symptoms usually appear within a few minutes or even seconds, but at the latest, after half an hour. Specific immune cells bind to the allergens using antibodies and release pro-inflammatory substances (including histamine). Typical examples of type 1 allergies are allergies to pollenanimal hair, or insect venom.

Allergy: type 3 (immune complex type)

Even with type 3 allergies, the symptoms usually appear within six to twelve hours. Here, antibodies form immune complexes with allergens, which attach to specific tissues or move freely in the body. Special scavenger cells absorb the immune complexes and release tissue-damaging enzymes. Type 3 allergies can, for example, trigger inflammatory vascular diseases.

Allergy: Type 4 (late type)

This allergy is known as the “delayed type” because the symptoms appear after twelve hours at the earliest, but often only after up to three days. Triggers are special defense cells, so-called T-lymphocytes. They target specific allergens and remain in the body even when the allergen is no longer present. Allergy type 4 includes, for example, nickel allergy or drug eruptions.

Allergy and asthma: How to protect your child

Reduce the risk

Sniffling nose, watery eyes, itchy skin, shortness of breath – allergies and asthma are rising. Almost 30 percent of Europeans are affected – including many children with asthma. Drug treatment quickly reaches its limits. But parents can do a lot to reduce the risk for their children. This already begins in the womb. Experts have summarized what you can do in the therapy guidelines for allergies.

Yes to breastfeeding

Studies confirm that breastfeeding has many advantages – it protects the child from allergies, asthma, and neurodermatitis. These diseases belong to the so-called atopic group of diseases. Experts, therefore, recommend breastfeeding newborns exclusively for the first four months. If this is not desirable or not possible, children with a high risk of allergies – i.e., if at least one parent or sibling has an allergy – should be given exceptional baby food.

Keep the immune system on its toes.

Early stimulation of the immune system protects against allergic diseases – i.e. when children come into contact with various germs, viruses, and bacteria in the first few months. Life on a farm, attending a day-care center in the first two years of life and having more older siblings seem to be particularly beneficial.

Nutrition during pregnancy and lactation

An essential part of the mother’s diet is fish – this applies to pregnancy and breastfeeding. The omega-3 fatty acids it contains are necessary for brain development. But fish also reduces the risk of allergic diseases in children. The all-clear is given for consuming foods known to trigger allergies often: not eating cow’s milk, nuts, or eggs is no benefit to the child.

Complimentary food - what and when?

As the baby grows, it needs more energy. Carrot porridge, apple sauce, and the like are part of the menu from the fourth month onwards. Possible allergy-triggering foods should then neither be given nor avoided. A varied diet with lots of fruit and vegetables is the be-all and end-all. Fish is also an essential part of a baby’s diet in the first year of life, as it seems to protect against atopic diseases.

Baby fat - better not

Various studies have shown a connection between a high body mass index (BMI) in children and the development of asthma. Therefore, make sure that your child has a normal BMI. If it exceeds the normal range, it is best to discuss the problem with your pediatrician.

Dogs yes, cats no

Pets are family members. Even during pregnancy and infancy, the beloved four-legged friends do not have to leave the house. They do not increase the risk of allergies. Cats are an exception: If your child has an increased risk of allergies, you should be careful with the purring four-legged friends.

House dust mites

They frolic on the mattress and love the sofa: house dust mites. The little crawlies are not only unappetizing but can also trigger allergies. Nevertheless, according to the experts, no measures – such as a unique plastic cover – are necessary to protect small children, particularly from the mites.

Mold and moisture

Mold irritates the airways and can make asthma worse. However, it can also promote the development of atopic diseases in childhood. Therefore, the motto is air, air, air – even when it’s cold. This is the only way to reduce humidity and take away the elixir of life for mold.

Polluted air makes you sick.

Tobacco smoke increases the child’s risk of allergies and asthma – even before birth. Pregnant women should avoid cigarettes and, if possible, not expose themselves to secondhand smoke. In addition to tobacco smoke, other airborne particles, such as car exhaust fumes and indoor air pollutants, are also harmful. The latter is released during painting and renovation work and through new furniture.

Don't be afraid of vaccinations.

So far, there is no evidence that vaccinations increase the risk of allergies. On the contrary, they could even reduce the risk. Experts, therefore, recommend vaccinating all children, including children at risk, according to the recommendations of the Standing Vaccination Commission (STIKO).

Natural birth versus cesarean section

There is increasing evidence that children born by caesarean section are more likely to develop asthma. The reason could be that these children do not get enough contact with the mother’s microflora, which could influence the immune system. The experts advise parents to consider this when choosing the birth procedure. Of course, only if there is no critical medical reason for a caesarean section.

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