While allergic reactions can be unpleasant and sometimes dangerous, their effects can be minimized with the appropriate management strategies.
Allergies are a widespread condition affecting over 50 million people in the United States alone. It is a reaction of the immune system to the presence of certain substances, known as allergens, that are usually harmless to most people.
The immune system is designed to recognize and fight off harmful organisms such as bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens. In the case of allergies, the immune system mistakenly identifies harmless substances as potential threats. This overreaction triggers the release of chemicals, such as histamines, which cause the allergic reaction.
Types of Allergens
Common allergens include the following:
- Respiratory allergens
- Food allergens
- Insect venom
Each person has unique allergies; some might be allergic to multiple allergens. The intensity of an allergic response can vary depending on the individual and the type of allergen involved.
Allergy Prevention and Management Tips
While allergies cannot be cured, managing symptoms and significantly reducing the severity of outbreaks is possible.
A food allergy occurs when the immune system mistakenly identifies a specific protein in food as an allergen and responds by producing a certain type of antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE).
When an allergen adheres to the IgE antibodies on the surface of the immune cells, it initiates the release of chemicals known as histamines. These chemicals cause various symptoms, depending on the specific tissue they are released into. The symptoms include the following:
- Shortness of breath
- Abdominal cramps
Food allergy management can be challenging, but the following tips can minimize your risk of experiencing unpleasant or potentially dangerous allergic responses:
- Make sure to read all processed food labels closely. Avoiding processed foods would be ideal, but it's not always possible. Whenever you purchase or consume packaged food, read the ingredient lists every time – even for foods you've consumed before. Food processors often change ingredients, formulations, and processing plants, which can increase your risk of exposure.
- Isolate tools and utensils to avoid cross-contamination. If you live in a home with people who do not have dietary restrictions, keep your food and utensils separate so you don't accidentally use a spoon with traces of nut, wheat, or milk byproducts.
- Keep more than one dose of medication on your person. If you require epinephrine (EpiPen) injectors, always have them accessible.
Respiratory or inhalant allergies refer to allergic reactions caused by airborne substances that a person inhales (breathes). These allergens can include both perennial allergens, which are present throughout the year, and seasonal allergens, which are more prevalent during specific seasons.
Perennial allergens are allergens that are present throughout the year, regardless of the season. Examples of perennial allergens include the following:
- Dust mites
- Pet Dander
Seasonal allergens, on the other hand, are allergens that peak during certain times of the year. These allergens can include the following:
Seasonal allergies frequently occur in the spring, summer, and fall, when certain plants bloom and release pollen into the air.
Controlling respiratory allergies involves a combination of environmental management and medications.
- Keep your living space as free from allergens as possible. Meticulous cleaning and climate control are essential for reducing allergen exposure. Regularly washing bedding, keeping pillows and mattresses covered with dust mite repellant covers, and limiting exposure to animals that cause allergic responses will help keep flare-ups to a minimum.
- Manage and prevent symptoms with medications. EpiPens are essential if you are in danger of anaphylaxis. Antihistamines are also effective in reducing respiratory allergy responses. Nasal allergy sprays also offer effective relief of allergy-related nasal inflammation and allergic rhinitis.
- Get allergy shots. Allergy shots – immunotherapy treatments – can reduce allergic responses by gradually building your immune system's tolerance to particular allergens. While immunotherapy shots do not cure allergies, they can reduce symptoms dramatically, effectively reducing or eliminating the need for allergy symptom medications.
Some types of medications can cause an allergic response. The most common medications include the following:
- Chemotherapy medications
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Symptoms of medication-induced allergic reactions include the following:
- Difficulty breathing
Drug allergy symptom prevention mainly involves avoiding the offending drug. However, penicillin allergies can sometimes be addressed using drug desensitization therapy, a procedure that involves introducing tiny amounts of penicillin in a systematic, controlled environment. If you have an infection that cannot be effectively treated with any other antibiotic, your healthcare provider might recommend drug desensitization therapy.
Repeated exposure to latex in the form of latex gloves, condoms, balloons, certain clothing items, and rubber products can cause the following allergic symptoms:
- Contact dermatitis (rash)
- Difficulty breathing
- Runny nose
If you struggle with a latex allergy, here are a few solutions that might help you minimize an allergic reaction.
- Avoid all exposure to latex. Latex particles can be challenging to avoid entirely. However, it’s the most effective preventative measure for a latex allergy.
- Always wear medical identification. This precaution will alert emergency medical providers of your latex allergy.
- Carry two EpiPen injectors at all times. Because latex is such a common material, coming into contact with it might be inevitable. Always have medications on hand.
- Consider immunotherapy for symptom reduction. People who work in manufacturing, food production, and healthcare can find latex avoidance difficult. Sublingual immunotherapy has shown promising results in latex desensitization.
Stinging insects, such as bees, wasps, and hornets, are known for their ability to inject venom when they sting. This venom is a toxin that can cause an allergic reaction in some people. The severity of the reaction can vary depending on the person's sensitivity and the species of insect involved.
Insect stings can trigger reactions ranging from mild to life-threatening. The reactions include the following:
- Inflammation of the site of the sting
- Accelerated pulse
- Inability to swallow
- Decline in blood pressure
- Swelling in the throat
Allergies to insect venom can be minimized using the following strategies:
- Allergen-specific immunotherapy (allergy shots). The potential danger from insect stings can be minimized through a series of allergy shots. People who have previously experienced anaphylactic responses to insect stings are at high risk of experiencing them again. Allergy shots can effectively prevent fatal reactions.