Allergies, sometimes also referred to as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, can be frustrating to deal with and can significantly impact how you live your day-to-day life.
However, allergy symptoms can vary from simply annoying to potentially dangerous. Being able to recognize which symptoms fall into which category can help keep you healthy and safe.
This article will introduce you to allergies, what may trigger allergies, and what to look out for. Our experts at Healthy Directions will also dive into risk factors and other potential issues that chronic allergies may cause or worsen.
What Causes Allergies?
Although allergies can sometimes seem to come out of nowhere, there is a distinct biological process behind how they occur.
Allergies are a reaction of the immune system. Our immune system’s primary goal is to fight off intruders and keep us healthy. In most cases, it reacts appropriately and attacks things like viruses and bacteria.
In other instances, it overreacts and creates allergic reactions to everyday things like pet dander, dust mites, insect stings, and pollen.
In either case, the resulting effect on the body is the same. When the immune system senses a reaction, it releases chemicals known as histamines.
Histamines work similar to pulling a fire alarm, triggering the body to jump into action and attack what it sees as the invaders. It is how the body responds to the histamines that creates the physical symptoms that allergy sufferers deal with.
Anything can be a potential allergen, but there are some triggers that tend to be more common. Those triggers include pollen, peanuts and tree nuts, wheat, soy, bee or wasp stings, certain medications like penicillin, shellfish, pet dander, and mold.
Common Allergy Symptoms
While everyone’s allergy symptoms are different and unique to the specific allergen that triggers them, there are a few categories that those reactions fall into.
Allergy symptoms primarily impact the respiratory system, the digestive system, and the skin. Here are a few of the more mild, non-life-threatening symptoms many people encounter.
Respiratory symptoms include:
- A runny nose
- A cough
- A sore throat or itching sensation in the mouth and throat
Digestive symptoms include:
- Stomach discomfort
Skin allergy symptoms include:
- Itchy skin
- A rash
Potential Risk Factors
Although anyone can experience allergy symptoms at any time, some risk factors may increase that likelihood.
One of those factors is a family history of allergies or asthma. While science hasn’t yet found a direct genetic link, anecdotal evidence has shown that people with immediate family members who deal with one of those issues are far more likely to deal with them as well.
Allergies are also more common in children because of a combination of genetic factors and environmental ones. However, children can outgrow their allergies as they age.
Identifying an Allergic Reaction
While the vast majority of allergy symptoms are mild and only impact your comfort level, there are a few that can become potentially dangerous.
The worst type of allergic reaction that you can encounter is anaphylaxis.
Anaphylaxis is most common with food allergies and insect bites or stings, but it can potentially happen with any type of allergy. It is always a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate medical care.
Some people at an increased risk of developing anaphylaxis may even carry an EpiPen, which they can self-inject if they experience symptoms.
Some of the ways to identify a severe allergic reaction include:
- A sudden drop in blood pressure
- Severe, rapid-onset shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Facial swelling or swelling of the throat
- A rapid, weak pulse
- A loss of consciousness
- Hives, especially around the neck and face
If you have severe allergies, especially if you’ve experienced a previous anaphylactic reaction, you may want to consider wearing a medical alert bracelet.
That way, if you come into contact with one of those triggers and cannot communicate, the people around you will still be aware of your condition and respond accordingly.
Other Impacts of Allergies on the Body
In addition to the life-threatening impact of allergies, other more subtle issues can arise from chronic allergy symptoms. Chronic exposure to allergens and heightened immune system reactivity may also significantly impact the heart.
The constant irritation that the body goes through may constrict your blood vessels and arteries over time, resulting in a change in blood flow. This not only has the potential to raise your blood pressure but can also increase your risk of heart disease and other heart-related issues.
Allergies can also exacerbate or trigger asthma. Allergies and asthma are often directly correlated, as both are immune system reactions to allergens. With asthma, people experience respiratory symptoms that impact their airways and ability to breathe.
Dealing with frequent allergy symptoms can also increase your risk of dealing with chronic sinusitis or ear infections. This risk results from the constant irritation and swelling of the respiratory system and the resulting fluid that it leaves behind.
How To Manage Allergies
Allergy management is an integral part of the conversation. Being able to hold allergy symptoms at bay, or at least minimize the severity of those symptoms, can allow you to continue to lead a more active life.
How you manage your symptoms depends on what triggers those symptoms and how they present. Management often involves treating the symptoms with allergy medications like antihistamines or decongestants. There may also be some natural allergy remedies that you can use, or your doctor may suggest prescriptions.
Your doctor may also recommend immunotherapy in the form of allergy shots.
If you are experiencing any new allergies or worsening of symptoms, always seek care from a medical professional.
Although most allergy symptoms are more annoying than dangerous, there is always the possibility that serious complications can occur. Being aware of those symptoms and what you can do if they happen can keep you as healthy and safe as possible.
Supporting your body is what we do at Healthy Directions. We offer better guidance, better products, and better value so that you can reach all of your health and wellness goals. We’re here for you every step of the way, with advice you can trust and rely on.
The role of histamine in allergic diseases | PubMed
Genetics of allergic disease | PubMed