You are going through some of your old belongings, possibly reminiscing on the “good old days”. You smile at the pleasant memories. Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, it happens – a great big sneeze. You let out a big sigh, as you recognize the start of the onslaught. Within minutes, your eyes start to water and your nose starts to run and itch. The ordinary bystander would think you have a cold or the flu, but you know only too well, it’s neither. It’s just your allergies and in a few minutes, at best, your reaction to whatever allergen is in the air will subside. If you haven’t already guessed it, this article will be dealing with allergies.
Sufferers from allergies would likely be able to relate to the above scenario. Although not all reactions are the same and not all allergies are the same, sufferers all cope with a measure of discomfort and sometimes even embarrassment depending on the type of reaction(s) they manifest. Many persons live with this condition but are not sure what it is or why it occurs; as such, they may not be in a very good position to deal with the symptoms and avoid reactions as much as possible.
This article will cover the following points:
- What are allergies?
- Who do they affect?
- What are the signs and symptoms of allergies?
- What are the causes and triggers of allergic reactions?
- How can allergies be diagnosed?
- Can allergies be prevented?
- Are there any treatments for allergies?
Allergies are immune responses. They are brought about by the body as a reaction to a substance to which the body’s sensitivity has become acute. These substances are termed allergens and can be described as allergenic. The response that an individual manifest is called an allergic reaction. Allergens for the most part in and of themselves are harmless substances; however, the body mounts a response to them as great as that put up against parasitic infections. This accounts for why different persons may suffer from different allergies. For example, one may be allergic to dust while another may be allergic to eggs. Atopic individuals – those suffering from atopy – have a genetic trait which predisposes them to develop allergies. Due to the fact that some allergies are genetically induced, the risk or likelihood of an individual suffering from allergies is greater if other members of their family are affected by allergy or asthma.
Allergies are very common and their causes and triggers seem to be never ending. The severity of allergic reactions ranges, from mild and barely noticeable, to life threatening. Rarely, allergic reactions can prove fatal. Some symptoms span prolonged periods, while others may last a few minutes. The results of some reactions are permanent for example, skin discoloration or lung damage.
Allergies may affect any area of the body. However, the most common areas include the nose, sinuses, eyes, mouth, airways, throat, ears, skin, gastrointestinal tract and lungs. It affects these areas in various ways. They may become irritated, inflamed, watery, itchy, constricted or dry and in the case of the skin, a rash may develop. Triggers of allergy include but are not limited to dust, mold, water, latex, food, plants, pollen, pet fur or dander, insect bites, the sun and even some medicines.
Allergies may affect persons of all age groups, ethnicity, and backgrounds, whether male or female. One in two persons suffers from an allergy at some point in time in their lives. Persons who come from a family of allergy sufferers are more likely to develop allergies than persons with no genetic history of allergy sufferers. Children are usually the most severely affected by allergies causing great concern among parents. Possible reasons for this include: being unaware of triggers; children have less exposure than adults and as such they may have never come in contact with some of their triggers, children are generally less conscious than adults; they may eat the ice cream that gave them a rash yesterday and being kept in an environment that is “too clean”. Allergies can interfere with a child’s ability to sleep well, play, and function in school. Allergies may cause children to develop a rash or get tired easily. A child with allergies may have itchy and chronic ear problems, a runny and itchy nose, sneezing, watery, red eyes, postnasal drip and nasal congestion that persist. Skin allergies are the most common allergies seen in younger children while older children generally have respiratory allergies. Studies show that a child is more likely to develop an allergy if one or both of his parents have allergies. It is not uncommon for children to grow out of allergies.
An interesting point to note is that allergies, sinusitis, eczema and asthma are related. Persons usually manifest two or more of these conditions. It is nearly impossible to find an individual suffering from just one of the above-mentioned conditions.
Signs and Symptoms
Allergic reactions may be manifested in different ways. They may occur in any part of the body. The following though are the most common affected areas and the general indicators to look for which usually belie allergy. Although each heading focuses on a specific point of entry that is not to say that is the only affected body part; for example eating ice cream may not affect your gastrointestinal tract, however, it may affect your eyes, nose or sinuses.
The nose is a point of entry for foreign substances. If not for the hairs lining your nose, dust, pollen and other antibodies would have unrestricted access to your respiratory tract. All of us, normally, are equipped with defense mechanisms such as the above-mentioned hairs and mucous membranes. In response to the entry of a foreign substance, we may all sneeze to eliminate it. However, persons with allergies also experience a release of histamine that may cause them to sneeze violently, repeatedly, their nose may begin to run and itch or get congested. Even the skin on and around it may get irritated. These symptoms may last for a few minutes and may be mild or they may last for hours and may be so severe that a person requires medical attention to breathing properly.
The sinuses are cavities or hollow spaces within the bones separating your eyes, behind your cheekbones and on your forehead. They are responsible for mucus production, which moistens the nose to trap and allow for the elimination of foreign substances. Allergens that enter your body may cause nasal tissues to become swollen. When this occurs, the sinus passages may become blocked, as a result, and prevent them from draining causing pressure build-up and pain. This also leads to “talking up in your head”, where your voice depth and tone is affected. Conversely, the sinuses after being stimulated may drain excessively through the nose and in some cases down the back of the throat, which, can be very annoying.
The eyes are also a point of entry for allergens. The eyes and the skin surrounding it are the most sensitive parts of your face. In response to allergens, which may enter any part of the body, the eyes may itch, burn become watery, turn red or get swollen. In some cases, the eyes may close down, sometimes simply passed down by dried matter accumulated in the lashes or in a more severe case, the individual may be unable to open the affected eye(s).
The airways may be affected in response to the entry of allergens into the body. The airways are susceptible to allergic reactions because they are also involved in mucus production which histamine accelerates. The bands of muscle that surround airways are relaxed and air moves freely during normal breathing. An allergic reaction may result in the constriction of the bands of muscle surrounding the airways, this reduces the capacity for airflow, the lining of the airways may become inflamed or swollen, further reducing air capacity and finally the cells lining the airways produce excess mucus, which is thicker than usual. This may result in wheezing, coughing, tightness in the chest or shortness of breath.
The outer ear and ear canal can itch and swell because of allergic skin reactions. Most commonly, though, the middle ear is the most affected. Your sinuses and nasal passage are connected to your ears. Therefore, the pressure in the ears is affected by nasal congestion and stuffiness. Histamine release triggers the congestion, itching and sneezing that increases mucus production, which can result in a conductive hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss occurs when a substance, such as earwax or fluid, prevents sound waves from moving into the tiny bones (ossicles) of the middle ear, making it difficult to hear temporarily. Drainage of the fluid from your Eustachian tube may become impaired causing a buildup of fluid and pressure, which gives a blocked or full feeling in the affected ear and provides the perfect breeding conditions for bacteria and infection. These symptoms may also affect balance, possibly causing vertigo, giving a light-headed, dizzy feeling.
The skin is the largest organ of the body. As such, it is constantly in contact with allergens. The skin also manifests allergic responses because it is an organ of excretion. In response to allergens, the skin may become dry, itchy or develop red patches. The most common manifestations of allergy in the skin are a rash, eczema, and hives (urticaria). Hives are itchy, white bumps which feel and look like insect bites. Food allergies may be a factor in some cases of hives and eczema.
Most stomach upsets result from the spiciness of the food itself. However, there are some foods that affect an individual mildly or adversely when consumed due to reactions brought about by the cells in their gastrointestinal tract, immunoglobulin (Ig) E or both. The gastrointestinal tract is susceptible to allergic reactions because it has a lot of immune cells within it due to its frequent contact with the external environment and is bombarded daily with external stimuli, dangerous as pathogens (viruses, protozoa, fungi, bacteria) or toxic substances, or beneficial like food. Some individuals manifest symptoms after ingesting raw fruits and vegetables. Symptoms include abdominal pains, anemia, constipation, diarrhea, dysphagia, growth retardation, nausea, reflux, severe malnutrition, and vomiting.
The allergens that affect the nose, mouth, eyes and ears may also induce an asthma attack. The symptoms associated with asthma occur after inhaling or even ingesting allergens. When intake of allergens occur, the lining of the lung passages swell and breathing becomes difficult as the airways constrict. The increased production of mucus, which occurs in response to histamine release, can worsen the asthmatic symptoms as the thickened mucus can trap the allergen and make it harder to remove when the airways constrict and the nasal passage gets constricted. Asthmatic reactions are generally characterized by shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, tiredness and a heavy cold.
Allergic reactions are brought on by various triggers. For convenience and treatment, these allergies can be categorized. Let us examine some of these categories.
People who suffer from allergies may be affected, seasonally or perennially. Seasonal allergy sufferers have symptoms that affect them in a particular season(s). For example, the symptoms may be triggered by the dust, pollen from flowers, grass, and other plants and possibly airborne mold spores. These triggers may be most prevalent in a particular season and as such allergic reactions are manifested or most severe within that season. For example individuals allergic to pollen may not necessarily be allergic to every kind of pollen and as such may only experience symptoms when the particular flower, tree or grass is in bloom. People with dust allergies, apart from minor flare ups occasionally, most likely would experience their worst symptoms in the summer when it is hot, windy and dry.
Allergic reactions to proteins in a particular food item that the body comes in contact with is called food allergy. This results from the body’s immune system wrongly marking that protein as being harmful. When the body comes in contact with a specific protein, IgE antibodies may be created for the neutralization of the perceived threat. Upon contact with that protein again, the previously created antibodies may trigger chemical releases, including histamine. Hence, you could eat something for the very first-time reaction free, but an allergic reaction can occur any time after that. It is to be noted, that food allergies are often confused with intolerance; intolerance is not an immune response.
Any food can induce allergies, but ninety percent of all reactions are credited to these foods, wheat, tree nuts, soy, shellfish, peanuts, milk, fish, and eggs. Exercise can also be a trigger. When some people consume certain food prior to exercise they may experience allergic reactions. Some fresh fruits,spices, and vegetables may also cause reactions because they have a similar composition to some pollen that an individual is already allergic to.This is termed cross-reactivity. Cooking the fruits and vegetables, if possible, may aid in preventing these symptoms
With food allergies, quantity often doesn’t matter, as even a very small amount of the allergy-inducing food can trigger a reaction with symptoms including swollen airways, hives or digestive problems. Other symptoms include wheezing, nasal congestion, abdominal pain, eczema, rapid pulse, swollen body parts, and dizziness. Some people undergo severe symptoms and may even suffer from a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. Most persons, though, suffer the mild to frightening effects, rarely going into life-threatening effects. Symptoms may develop up to two hours, a few minutes or immediately after contact with the food allergen. This all depends on the method of contact that triggers a person’s allergies.
Persons who suffer from food allergies suffer symptoms depending on their sensitivity to the particular food. Most persons experience symptoms after consuming the food that they are allergic to, food with a similar component to one of their triggers, or food that has been prepared in close proximity to one of their triggers. Some persons experience symptoms upon touching the food. Other persons suffer from airborne allergies. Airborne allergies can be by far the most dangerous, especially if a person has anaphylactic tendencies, as triggers may escape notice easily. You can be going about your business and someone eating (or who has just finished eating) peanuts, for example, walks by. They go unnoticed for a few seconds by your eyes maybe but not your immune system. Very soon, you feel it trying to close your airways to keep out the scent of the offending food. Airborne allergies as the name suggests, occur when an individual encounters the food allergen in the air and inhales the scent.
It is important to research food allergies and read labels of food properly. When eating out ask about the ingredients of your meal and what foods have been prepared in the facility. If in doubt, take your own food. If you have anaphylactic tendencies, take your prescribed auto-injector everywhere you go.
When your immune system wrongfully marks a drug as being harmful, a drug allergy develops. As is the case with other allergic reactions, the body produces chemicals to defend itself and these are responsible for the symptoms persons suffering from this allergy will face.This means that your first contact with the drug causes your immune system to detect it as an invader and develop an antibody to fight it. Contact at any time after that results in an immune response. Unfortunately, you need not have had conscious contact with the drug prior to manifesting symptoms. Trace amounts of a drug in the food you consume or antibiotics may be just enough for antibody creation.
Some allergic reactions occur differently. T-cell mediated responses also cause allergic reactions. However, this kind of reaction can take place when the drug is taken for the first time. Drug allergy sufferers may have symptoms whether the medicine is in injectable, liquid, or pill form. The likelihood of an allergy developing is higher when the medication is taken frequently and when it is injected or topically applied than when it is administered orally. Factors that also affect the likelihood of developing drug allergies also include the presence of underlying disease, body chemistry, or genetics.
Most persons experience allergic reactions within hours to two weeks subsequent to taking the medication. Rashes, however, may take up to six weeks to develop after a certain type of medication is being taken. Severe delayed drug reactions can be more serious and affect other organs such as the heart, kidneys, liver, and lungs.
An individual usually develops an allergy to latex after being exposed to items containing natural rubber latex repeatedly. This reaction termed latex allergy, describes the body’s reacting to the proteins in natural rubber latex. A person allergic to latex will experience symptoms after coming in contact with latex such as in gloves or after inhaling latex particles that are airborne. Most latex allergies are triggered by balloons, condoms, and gloves.
Symptoms displayed by latex allergy sufferers range from very severe to mild. The severity of the reaction is dependent on the degree of latex exposure and the sensitivity of the individual. Repeated exposure to latex can make reactions worse. Not every latex product will cause allergic reactions as they are not all comprised of naturally occurring latex. Synthetic latex, as is found in latex paint, is not likely to induce an allergic reaction.
Having a history of multiple medical procedures or surgeries increases the chances of developing an allergy to latex. Health-care personnel is at an increased risk of developing latex allergy. Persons employed in the rubber industry are also at a risk of developing latex allergy. Individuals with a family history of allergies or who have other allergies are also at a greater risk of developing an allergy to latex.
Avoid latex and places where it may be in use as much as possible if you think you may be allergic to it.
Different parts of a plant can cause allergic reactions in persons. Plant allergies may be to pollen, leaves, sap, fruits or roots. An individual can be allergic to any part of any plant. Plant allergies occur when the body erroneously marks a protein within the plant as harmful to the body. The antibodies created attack this protein whenever it is detected and result in the symptoms of allergic reactions.
A person may manifest allergic reactions upon touching a plant, or if the plant makes contact with their skin. Allergic reactions may occur if the plant or any plant part is consumed fresh or cooked, although cooking decreases the likelihood. Allergic reactions may occur if the individual smells the plant, whether up-close or at a distance. Inhaling pollen grains from the specific plant may also trigger allergic reactions.
Symptoms of plant allergies include rash, eczema, nasal congestion and itchy, watery eyes, nose, and mouth. Persons with plant allergies generally suffer from hay fever, mold allergies, and/or pollen allergies.
Scientifically termed Allergic Rhinitis, hay fever, is an allergy triggered by dust or pollen. It is aptly named because symptoms were most evident during the season of hay harvesting when the concentration of dust and pollen in the air was high, although symptoms may persist throughout the year. The mucous membranes of the eyes and nose of a hay fever sufferer get inflamed. Therefore, the affected individual may have one, a few or all of these symptoms: a runny or congested nose, itchy, watery eyes, a scratchy or a sore throat and frequent bouts of constant sneezing or coughing. Although the name suggests otherwise, fever is not necessarily a symptom of this response.
Contact with hay is not necessary to trigger this response. The symptoms are triggered by inhaling the dust, pollen from flowers, grass and other plants and possibly airborne mold spores, pet dander or hair, smoke, strong fragrances, vehicle exhaust or cockroaches.
Hay fever directly results from an immune response. Discharge from the affected area(s); nose, eyes or mouth, can also be brought about by the action of histamines. Persons afflicted with hay fever may also want to limit alcohol consumption during the time when their symptoms are most severe, as alcohol can stimulate histamine production. Hay fever sufferers may also try these suggestions:
- Use air conditioning in the house and car, if possible, rather than opening windows.
- Check damp areas in your environment frequently for mold and mildew, and remove visible mold with nontoxic cleaners.
- Wear a filter mask when working outdoors.
- Avoid hanging clothes outdoors to dry where they can trap dust or pollen.
- Change heating and A/C filters and clean ducts and vents regularly
Persons allergic to molds are really allergic to the spores (seeds) that they produce for reproduction. Some individuals experience allergic reactions after touching molds but most individuals manifest allergic reactions after inhaling mold spores. The response to contact with molds can be immediate or delayed. Allergic reactions to mold may be mild or very severe.
The types of molds in existence number into the hundreds. However, not all of them are responsible for triggering allergic reactions. Molds belong to the fungi family and can be found anywhere where the environment is damp and there is air, appropriate temperature, food, and water. Molds can grow indoors or outdoors. They produce spores which they disperse and are very often floating around in the air. You can upset mold spores and make them airborne if you disturb where the mold is growing. Everyone breathes in mold spores but only some people have allergic reactions to it. Alternaria, Aspergillus, Cladosporium, and Penicillium are the most noted for triggering allergic reactions.
Mold growth occurs all year round and as such some individuals may suffer from symptoms throughout the year, others may suffer in the dry season and still others may suffer when it is rainy. When an allergic individual inhales mold spores, their immune system triggers such symptoms as nasal congestion, sneezing, watery eyes, runny nose, itchy eyes, mouth, nose, and lips. Molds may also trigger or aggravate asthmatic conditions. Allergic persons may deal with this by fixing leaking pipes and sinks and trying to keep closets and storage areas as dry as possible to prevent mold growth.
Persons with pollen allergies are sensitive to the fine powder produced in the stamen of flowering plants. Pollen grains may be dispersed over great distances in the air because of their tiny size. Being sticky they may also cling to skin, fur or clothes. It is, therefore, easy to come in contact with the eyes or get inhaled through your mouth or nose. The severity of allergic reactions is impacted by the concentration of pollen in the air. This can be affected by weather conditions and geographic location. Usually, in hot, windy, dry conditions, there will be more severe reactions due to the wider circulation and higher concentration of pollen in the air. In cooler, wetter conditions reactions tend to be less severe as the saturated air causes pollen grains to be washed to the ground and less likely to get into your nasal passage. Having a lot of flowering plants in your vicinity may also contribute to more frequent and severe reactions.
Pollen allergies may be specific to a type of plant or family of plants. Allergic reactions would be most evident when these plants are in full bloom. One of the ideal ways to deal with pollen allergies is to ascertain which pollens trigger a reaction. A few common plants whose pollen trigger allergic reactions include Sorrel, Nettle, Willow, Cedar, Cottonwood, Ragweed, Timothy and Birch to name a few.
Allergy sufferers may manifest allergic reactions after coming in contact with animals. Not every case is a guaranteed allergy to the animal itself as dust, pollen and other allergens can stick to animals and trigger allergic reactions. When a person has an adverse reaction to a protein produced by a particular animal this is considered an animal allergy. People who suffer from allergies to dust and pollen are as good as allergic to animals and do well to avoid close contact with them.
It is common belief that allergies to animals are induced and aggravated by cat and dog fur. However, these animals secrete proteins, that may be allergenic, through their skins’ oil glands that they shed in dander. They also secrete allergenic proteins in saliva, which adheres to their fur when they lick themselves clean. Their urine also contains allergenic proteins. When all these protein-containing substances dry, the proteins become airborne and waft around in the air making contact with persons in the vicinity. If they have an animal allergy, very soon they may find themselves sneezing, coughing, getting a rash or displaying whatever symptoms induced by the histamine their body releases.
Of course, an individual can be allergic to just about any animal. Due to the fact that allergies are caused by immune system “malfunctions”, if you display allergic symptoms after contact with an animal, and you do not suffer from hay fever, you’re most likely allergic to it.
Allergies to animals may take up to two years to emerge and may last in excess of six months after contact with the allergen producing animal has ceased. Animals usually tagged with causing allergies are our furry friends (or maybe not so much friends) like the cat, dog and guinea pig, feathered animals, typically birds, and insects.
Could people really be allergic to cats? Such cute, cuddly creatures! Ah yes. The sad reality is even some cat lovers are allergic to them. Persons with allergies to cats have an immune response to proteins produced by cats and so they will have allergic reactions to any cat regardless of its gender, hair length or time spent indoors.
Allergy sufferers may manifest allergic reactions after coming in contact with cats. Although most people believe allergic reactions are triggered by cat fur, and that is true to a certain extent, this is not always the case. Cats secrete proteins, which may induce allergic reactions, from oil glands in their skin that is shed in dander. Cat urine can also contain allergenic proteins. They secrete allergy-inducing proteins in their saliva, and it clings to their fur and the fur of their young after they have been licked. These proteins may also become airborne and float around in the air making contact with and sticking to persons nearby. These people may manifest allergic symptoms or transport these proteins to someone who does.
A person need not come in contact with the animal itself to manifest symptoms. Merely being in a room that a cat was in can be enough. Sitting beside someone who shared space with a cat can also be a trigger. Cats are generally considered to be more allergenic than dogs because they lick themselves for cleaning more often and they are generally cuddled more and held closer to the body and face than dogs.
An allergy to dogs is manifested when an individual’s immune system is sensitive to and marks proteins produced by dogs as harmful. As such any contact with such a protein will stimulate an immune response. Like cats, dogs produce many allergens. These allergy-inducing proteins can be found in dog urine, saliva, hair (fur) or dander. The amount of allergens a dog produces increases if the dog is made to live indoors. Even breeds of dogs that are seen to be ‘hairless’ still produce allergens that they shed in dander.
Persons with allergies to dogs may display such symptoms as red, itchy eyes, coughing, sneezing, runny, itchy, or stuffy nose and wheezing. Allergic reactions to dogs range from very mild to life-threatening depending on how sensitive the individual is and a number of allergens or dogs the person is exposed to. Sensitive people may develop symptoms after entering a room which a dog was in, sitting next to someone who was near to a dog or touching a dog. Furniture and carpets can also collect allergens produced by dogs and once there they are very hard to remove completely. These can also induce allergic reactions depending on a person’s sensitivity level.
Avoiding contact with dogs is best to deal with dog allergies. Consider removing your dog from your house if you are allergic; if you don’t want to get rid of the dog you may want to consider minimizing exposure to allergens. Refrain from hugging, petting or kissing the dog. Always wash your hands with soap and water after handling anything the dog has come in contact with. Get someone to bathe the dog at least once a week and most importantly keeps the dog out of your bedroom.
It’s not hard to imagine being allergic to insects. After all, most of us think they are creepy crawly and even nature lovers know their limits with some of these creatures. An insect allergy is an adverse immune reaction brought about in response to contact with an insect. Most persons with insect allergies manifest symptoms after the insect has bitten or stung them but that need not be the case.
The main culprits for indoor insect allergies are cockroaches and dust mites. Allergic reactions to cockroaches can appear year round. Cockroach waste has components that are allergenic. Their bodies too can cause allergies. Dust mites are microscopic, however, they too can stimulate an immune response. Their waste and bodies are also allergenic.
Although the normal reaction to an insect bite or sting is redness, minor swelling, itching and pain in the surrounding area and these symptoms may disappear within hours or days, allergy sufferers generally have more intense and persistent symptoms. Bees, fire ants hornets, scorpions, yellow jackets, and wasps are the most noted for causing allergic reactions by stinging. A toxic substance called venom is injected into the body when these animals sting. In allergic persons, this venom can trigger allergic reactions that are more uncomfortable than a normal reaction and even life-threatening.
Biting insects may also trigger allergic reactions like bedbugs, fleas, certain flies, kissing bugs and mosquitoes. The symptoms of an insect bite resemble that of a sting. As such the allergic reactions are pretty much the same although bites are less likely to be life-threatening than stings.
Lone Star ticks are carriers of a sugar called alpha-gal. When the tick bites an individual, the alpha-gal is injected into the bloodstream and a reaction takes place. Alpha-gal can also be found in the meat of mammals and consume these may also trigger an allergic reaction.
Other allergies (feather)
Feathers can collect a lot of dust so although they look nice in a hat if you are allergic to dust you may want to avoid ornamental feathers or our feathery friends – the birds. Allergies to feathers themselves are not very common. What is common is the allergic reaction dust or dust mites that may collect on a feather. When a feather shaft breaks, dander is released. This dander may be allergenic. When a person comes in contact with the proteins on the feather, they may manifest an allergic reaction.
Persons come in contact with feathers whenever they come in contact with birds. This is almost unavoidable, as most birds are wild and very few areas have a low bird population. Allergens are also distributed throughout the air in greater concentration and at a faster rate when birds preen or flutter their wings. Persons may also come in contact with feathers used in bedding, such as in pillows or used on clothing like hats.
Basically, the best thing to do if you have a feather allergy is to avoid them altogether, whether in bedding or on your pet. However, if you can’t or don’t want to you can keep birds out of your room, out of the house if possible, wash your hands thoroughly after handling a bird, regularly get someone without feather or bird allergies to assist you in keeping the cage clean.
(snake bite/ venom)
Venomous snake bites are very painful but rarely deadly. They can produce a number of normal and allergic reactions. Even bites from seemingly “harmless” snakes can prove serious and can lead to severe allergic reactions. An allergy to snake bites results in an immune response whenever this occurs, to proteins the snake may inject into the skin in its venom or saliva.
Persons with a snake bite or venom allergy will have symptoms like blurred vision, difficulty breathing, nausea, numbness in the face and limbs, salivating, sweating, and vomiting and they may even go into anaphylactic shock. There really is only one way of having allergic reactions to snake bites – by being bitten and unless you work in a lab you’re pretty safe from venom-induced allergic reactions as long as you avoid being bitten as well.
Diagnosis of allergy is a key step in effectively dealing with the symptoms allergic reactions bring on. You may be able to tell that you are allergic to some things based on your reaction to them but some triggers may just elude you. Proper testing and diagnosis can make it much easier to manage and live with allergies.
An allergist is a physician who is trained in the prevention, diagnosis, management, and treatment of allergic conditions. An allergist will be able to, through carrying out various procedures, tell you what you are allergic to and how severe of an allergy it is. Your medical and personal history will factor into this diagnosis. A physical exam may also be needed. Methods of testing that can be used include skin prick testing, blood testing, and patch testing. Another method a doctor may use is an elimination diet which involves refraining from consuming specific foods or ingredients that your doctor thinks or you suspect may be at the root of your allergic reactions.
When selecting a method of determining your allergies, in addition to knowing how the testing will be carried out and the things you need to avoid you may have other concerns. You need to consider the risk involved in the method of testing, the cost associated with the test and the accuracy of the test.
Skin prick testing
Undergoing a skin prick test is among the most common options for allergy testing. A skin prick test, otherwise known as a scratch or puncture test, can be used in checking for immediate allergic responses to up to forty different substances at once. This test is usually done to identify allergies to pollen, mold, pet dander, dust mites, and foods. In adults, the test is usually done by putting a drop off the potentially allergenic liquid on the forearm after which the skin under the drop is pricked gently with a needle. If you are indeed allergic to the substance a red bump that itches will appear in fifteen minutes. Be sure not to take any antihistamines prior to testing as this will skew the results.
Skin testing for allergic reactions has been in use from the 1860s. Nowadays, puncture or prick tests are popularly used by allergists in diagnosing allergic conditions. These tests are a good option as they are not very invasive and, usually generate results quickly for most allergenic substances. If puncture or prick tests return negative results, intradermal testing may be carried out to determine the cause of underlying symptoms.
Skin prick testing is a reliable method for the diagnosis of allergies in patients suffering from anaphylaxis, asthma, atopic eczema, food and drug allergy, rhinoconjunctivitis and urticaria. It can help to diagnose the presence of type 1 allergy and shows whether the individual was sensitized to the particular allergen or not. The extracts of allergens used in the testing may be different from country to country and even within the country to reflect the allergens that the person is most likely to come in contact with.
When you are going to do any form of testing there are some things you need to know. Apart from how the testing will be done, things to avoid whether by eating or otherwise and what information you need to provide, you also need to know the risks associated with the test. Skin prick testing has a relatively low risk; however, systemic allergies may develop in response. Additionally, due to the percutaneous nature of the test, infections can result and as such it is important to effect control measures. Of course, depending on your medical or other history other precautions may be necessary and should be observed.
Although the steps to test are pretty straightforward and the risk is relatively low, never try to carry out the test on your own. You may misinterpret results and over diagnose yourself and this can prove costly. The test should be carried out by or under the supervision of trained and experienced personnel. Skin tests are carried out under a doctor’s care for a reason – the remote chance exists that you can have a life-threatening reaction.
Skin prick tests generally cost less than blood tests for allergies. These tests are relatively inexpensive and produce immediate results. An individual without health insurance coverage can expect to pay about $150 to $300 to have a consultation with an allergist. The actual test can cost between three to five dollars ($3-$5) for each allergen being tested for.
How accurate is this method of testing, though? Skin prick tests are pretty reliable methods of diagnosing allergies especially immediately. If a bump or wheal develops you probably are allergic to the substance. The larger the wheal is normally the more sensitive the individual is to the allergen. However, skin tests are not infallible. You may respond to the allergen when you really aren’t allergic to it or you may not have a reaction although you are allergic to the substance. You may have different reactions to the same test at different times. Or you may simply have an allergic reaction to the substance used in the test although you do not have an allergic reaction to it on a normal basis.
A method of testing for allergens that cause skin irritation is patch testing. Patch testing does not involve the use of needles. Rather, allergens are placed on patches, which are subsequently placed on a patient’s skin. Patches are applied to skin that is free from irritation. Throughout the course of a patch test, your skin may come in contact with up to thirty (30) different allergen extracts, which can cause contact dermatitis. These extracts may include fragrances, hair dyes, latex, medications/drugs, metals, resins, and preservatives. Avoid prolonged sun exposure prior to testing as well as the use of steroid creams (for up to 3 weeks) or antihistamines as these may affect the accuracy of results.
Dermatitis, in this case, refers to allergic reactions to an external agent in which the skin of the affected individual gets swollen, sore, turns red and sometimes small blisters appear. Contact dermatitis describes when these symptoms appear because an allergen has made contact with or has touched the skin. Patch testing can assist individuals to identify which substances cause or aggravate dermatitis on contact with the skin. Patch tests can also detect allergic reactions which may take days to develop. Patch testing is the best method for determining skin allergies.
Substances used for patch testing can be in a range. The substances used may be standardized with a few specific substances geared towards the individual being tested. The patches are usually placed on the arm or back and are generally worn for two days (48 hours) in which time, bathing, swimming, and activities which will stimulate perspiration should be avoided. When they are removed the doctor will observe to see if anywhere is irritated. Irritated skin may indicate an allergy. However, not all allergic reactions will necessarily be visible at that time.
Patch testing is pretty risk-free except for the mild to severe skin irritation or itching that may occur at the tiny test areas. Rarely, dermatitis will flare up and result in numerous test sites becoming inflamed. If allergies are demonstrated the doctor may prescribe a cream to provide relief. The skin at the affected areas may be darkened for a few weeks but eventually, the discoloration will fade.
Patch testing may be a bit expensive depending on where you decide to do them. However, costs are negated if dermatitis persists and the individual must seek medical advice multiple times. Patch tests may cost up to twelve hundred dollars ($1200). This is because of the time that the nursing staff and doctor(s) have to spend to prepare the test and interpret the results. The cost may vary based on your insurance and the number of substances that you are being tested against. Usually, a charge is effected per patch. Since patch testing can cost you several thousand dollars be sure to contact your insurance company to find out how many or which types they cover and for an estimate of the cost associated with it.
As much as possible, testing is done to determine the concentration of a substance that will not irritate a person without allergies but can cause allergic individuals to react. At times, as with everything else, results may be misleading or inconclusive. Sometimes almost all the allergen test sites are irritated. This is usually the case with people with active dermatitis and does not necessarily indicate that the individual is allergic to all the allergens. At times, the concentration or the area to which the substance is applied prevents the true reading so an individual who is allergic to the substance may have no apparent reaction. Patch tests do not always provide answers as to the cause of dermatitis.
Blood tests for allergies can cost hundreds to several thousand dollars. Blood tests which are allergen-specific IgE antibody tests are used in the diagnosis of specific allergies to substances or for individuals with very severe reactions to allergens. This test is suited for an individual with symptoms that persist and if other members of the person’s family suffer from allergies. This test is also suited for individuals who suffer from dermatitis or eczema, as the blood test will tell if the reactions that cause these conditions are IgE mediated. When a person manifests signs or symptoms suggestive of an allergy to one or more allergy blood tests can be ordered.
This method of testing is risk-free as the test is carried out on a blood sample and not on the individual that is being tested. If an individual exhibits anaphylactic tendencies a blood test may be the safest controlled method of detecting allergies.
Blood tests for allergies cost, however, it is far cheaper than exposing yourself to anaphylactic shock unnecessarily.
The allergy blood test may be used as a means of monitoring immunotherapy (desensitization) or to determine if someone has outgrown an allergy. This blood test is not absolute though as the concentration of IgE present does not necessarily give an idea of the severity of an allergic reaction and someone who has outgrown an allergy may have a positive IgE for many years subsequent to that. Blood tests for allergies are effective because IgE antibodies are unique to the allergen that they are produced in response to. Checking for these specific types of cell variants in the blood can assist in determining the presence.
The test’s accuracy can be affected by IgE cells that are present in the body even after allergic reactions are no longer manifested. The test also will not detect allergens to which it is not specific. Of course, the doctor can run a general allergy test for a standard set of allergens, but the test is most effective when the doctor is sure which allergens to test for.
Checking the measurement of all IgE antibodies within the blood is not recommended. People with allergies will generally have a high count of IgE. People with eczema, parasitic infections, and some rare medical conditions may also have elevated levels of IgE. Therefore, high overall levels of IgE levels do not guarantee that the person has an allergy, and normal overall IgE levels do not mean allergies are not present.
Another skin testing method is the intradermal skin test. In this method, a small amount of the allergen is injected into the skin (so it goes deeper than a skin prick test). The injection site is then observed for reactions. This test is generally used in diagnosing allergies to penicillin or bee stings. This method can also be used if your skin prick results were negative and you and/or your doctor still think that you are allergic to the substance. Intradermal tests should not be used to diagnose food allergies or allergies to inhalants.
Scratch tests were used in the past. They are similar to skin prick tests but they generally cause more discomfort.
An effective way of dealing with allergies is identifying what it is that you are allergic to and how it affects you. An allergist is trained to assist with that. After this has been done, however, you may want to avoid your triggers especially if your reactions to them are life threatening. Of course, you can’t completely avoid dust, pollen, plants and especially not food. Therefore, you must have certain contingencies in place either for when contact does occur, to treat symptoms or for before contact occurs, to minimize or completely prevent manifestations of a reaction.
Various treatments are employed in dealing with allergies. How safe are they? How effective are they? And how long do their effects last?
Immunotherapy, also called desensitization, in the context of allergies involves treating or preventing the allergies with substances that are proven to stimulate a response by the immune system. When immunotherapy is administered in the form of allergy shots, small doses allergens are injected under the skin. This is in an effort to acclimatize your body to the allergen to reduce the overall symptoms of allergies and their severity. This is the closest thing to a cure for allergies.
Blood tests for the IgE cell which response to the particular allergen can be used to monitor how effective the immunotherapy is. Depending on what the immunotherapy is geared toward, the allergen may be administered in a saline solution. At first, the injection is given once or twice per week with a gradual increase in the allergen concentration in the shots. About six months into the weekly injections, an individual is usually getting the highest concentration of allergen permissible in the shot. This is referred to as the maintenance dose. Subsequent to successfully administering this dose it is stabilized and administered every two to four weeks for another four to six months.
If at the end of this time period allergic reactions remain the same the treatment is unsuccessful and will be discontinued. If symptoms improve, therapy may be continued for another three to five years.
Immunotherapy works pretty much like a vaccine. Over time the body develops resistance and tolerance to an allergen if it is repeatedly introduced to the body in gradual amounts. At the end of immunotherapy, an individual may have less severe, minimal or no allergy symptoms at all. The effects of immunotherapy may last a lifetime or it may have to be done several times.
A plethora of medications are on the market and available for dealing with allergies. Understanding the one that will best combat your symptoms may be a bit of a trial and error process.
Antihistamines, as the name suggests, suppress histamine production. They are great for combatting hay fever and eczema and provide relief from sneezing, itching skin, a runny nose and itchy, watery eyes. Examples of these are Cetirizine (Zyrtec), Loratadine (Alavert, Claritin) and Diphenhydramine (Benadryl). Antihistamines may cause drowsiness. They are generally very safe except for people with allergies to components in specific ones. They are usually very effective and results may last for a few hours or until contact is made with another allergen.
Decongestants as the name suggests, help to remove congestion. They help to free up airways by shrinking the lining of the passages in your nose. Decongestants are fast acting but your body may soon grow accustomed to them so don’t use them for more than three consecutive days.
Nasal corticosteroid sprays mainly to assist with nasal and respiratory reactions. Spraying these nasal sprays into the nose may help to relieve a runny nose, stuffiness, and sneezing. They may work immediately or take a few days before changes in symptoms are noticed. Mometasone furoate monohydrate (Nasonex) is one such nasal spray. These are also safe and effective, however, the steroid component means individuals should take it as prescribed.
Eye drops are fast acting and help to relieve itchy watery eyes. They can also be used before an allergic reaction is observed in order to prevent symptoms as well. Examples of eye drops are Ketotifen fumarate (Zaditor) and Alcaftadine (Lastacaft).
These drugs although effective and relatively safe may have dangerous side effects especially if an individual suffers from other complicated illnesses. Be sure to read the directions carefully and avoid any medicine that may prove detrimental to your overall health.
Of course, natural methods of dealing with allergies are always welcome to most allergy sufferers. Natural methods of dealing with allergies range from herbs to acupuncture. An extract from butterbur called Ze 339 is said to function like antihistamines. Phleum pratense and pycnogenol that is plant based is also said to help with allergies too.
Consuming fresh fruits and vegetables, provided that you are not allergic to them, with a focus on apples, tomatoes, oranges, and grapes can reduce allergic reactions. Diet really affects allergies, especially nasal allergies. On that note running a saline solution through the nostrils may help to reduce allergic reactions related to the nose. If a sore throat also threatens gargle with the salt and water.
Don’t underestimate garlic and ginger. They are also beneficial in dealing with the symptoms associated with allergic reactions. Garlic can also help with overall IgE levels. Especially are they beneficial in tea form because they provide the added benefit of steam. Sitting in the steaming shower can help to relieve your allergies as much as inhaling the steam. This helps relieve nasal congestion and makes breathing a lot easier. There really is no limit to how often you can use this method. When allergies get the best of you especially nasal ones drink more fluids. Consuming extra liquid can help to thin the mucus that is secreted into your nasal passage.
Acupuncture can help those with nasal allergies. The effect it has on hay fever is still not quite clear, however, some persons have experienced relief from nasal allergies using acupuncture. Another source of allergy relief is probiotics. These live in the digestive tract and are considered beneficial bacteria. They occur naturally in foods like the milk drink kefir and yogurt. There are also probiotic supplements available.
All in all, allergies are immune responses to basically harmless things. They can affect anyone and in many different ways. Allergies can develop to just about anything and they can be successfully diagnosed and treated. So go ahead and make more memories to look back on without the hindrance of allergies.