Allergies

Control symptoms of seasonal allergies

An allergy is an immune system reaction to a substance generally considered harmless, such as pollen, dust, pet dander or certain foods. Seasonal allergies occur only at certain times of the year in response to specific airborne substances, usually pollens. Technically called allergic rhinitis, seasonal allergies are generally referred to as hay fever and occur mainly in the spring and fall.

Non-seasonal allergies are present year-round and can range from mild sensitivities to fatal anaphylaxis. Perhaps the best-known non-seasonal allergy is the peanut allergy, which has recently garnered a lot of attention and resulted in "peanut-free" schools and workplaces. Other common non-seasonal allergies include bee stings, pet dander, penicillin and dust.

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Many people claim to be allergic to fragrances, but scientists and medical professionals debate whether this is an allergy or merely an overstimulation of the senses that produces allergy-like symptoms. Regardless, many public spaces like offices and gyms now ask patrons to refrain from using scents or heavily scented products in consideration of those who are sensitive.

Allergy Symptoms

There are many types of allergies, and symptoms vary according to the allergen and the sufferer. For seasonal allergies, including the common allergy to ragweed, symptoms typically consist of "allergy eyes" (redness, itching, watering), runny nose, sneezing and, in some cases, itchy ears, throat and palate (roof of the mouth).

Food allergies tend to be indicated by itching or tingling in the mouth and constriction of the throat, leading to difficulty swallowing and breathing problems. If or when the food moves into the digestive system, symptoms may include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Anaphylaxis—an extreme immune reaction affecting the skin, respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract and cardiovascular system—may result in severe cases.

Contact with allergens, particularly latex, bee stings and oils, can create a reaction on the skin, typically in the form of redness, swelling, itching, rash or dry, cracked skin (eczema).

Allergy Treatments

Like allergy symptoms, treatments for allergies vary depending on the type of allergy and the sufferer. Generally, seasonal allergies are treated with over-the-counter or prescription medications called antihistamines. Decongestants, nasal sprays and eye drops are also used to alleviate symptoms.

Avoidance of allergens is usually the best course of treatment for non-seasonal allergies. Contact with pet dander, latex, penicillin, certain chemicals and materials—even dust—can typically be avoided or at the very least reduced, thereby eliminating or reducing the corresponding allergic reactions. Similarly, in the case of food allergy, diet is the most important factor in treatment. As long as the sufferer does not ingest the offending food—the most common of which are peanuts, tree nuts, seafood, eggs and dairy products—he or she will not experience a reaction.

Anaphylactic reactions are combated with epinephrine, usually administered through injection with an EpiPen. Those seeking natural alternatives for allergy treatment may find vitamins, herbal supplements and alternative therapies like acupuncture helpful in relieving symptoms.

Allergies and Asthma

While there is no direct link between allergies and asthma, many people suffer from both conditions. In particular, many asthma sufferers also experience seasonal allergies, which can complicate their condition.

Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition marked by inflammation of the airways, which leads to coughing, wheezing and trouble breathing. Seasonal allergies also trigger these symptoms, as the immune reaction mainly targets the eyes, ears, nose, throat and sinuses.

Both asthma and allergies are controllable, usually non-fatal conditions, but in both cases, proper diagnosis and treatment is essential to healthy living. If you experience symptoms of either condition, see your doctor for testing and care.

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