A Beginner’s Guide to Allergies

Have you ever stopped to think about your allergies? Looking back on your life, can you pinpoint when you had your first allergic reaction? Have you always had allergies? Or did you grow up without them, and then one day in your adulthood, maybe after moving to a different area, the allergies started bringing their headaches and sinus congestion and runny nose and eyes and so on?

That first allergic reaction could have come from different pollen counts in places you’ve lived or other environmental changes. It might simply have to do with your genetic makeup. Not everyone experiences allergies the same way because allergic reactions are the result of a chain reaction from your immune system.

Thousands of things, of course, can be allergens. But how do you, or did you, get allergies in the first place?

 

What are Allergies?

Allergies are quite often hereditary, meaning that if you have allergies, your child is likely to as well. They might be allergic to different things, but there’s a good chance allergies will occur. However, allergies also develop in those who are not genetically predisposed. Allergies are a hyper-reaction by your immune system to a substance it deems harmful. Often, these substances are completely harmless, (think pollen), but once your immune system reacts to it, it becomes an allergen.

We can encounter allergens through inhalation, swallowing, injection, or contact with the eyes or skin. Sadly, there’s no limit to what can become allergenic. They might include foods, pollens, molds, dust, animal dander, etc., each of which causes various degrees of allergic reactions.

Truthfully, allergies are your immune system making mistakes. It’s there, of course, to protect you from proteins, like snake, spider, or bee venom, which can be dangerous. Often, though, something goes awry and your immune “recognition” gets off kilter to the point that it sees all kinds of harmless proteins as pathogens.

The first time your immune system reacts to an allergen, it sensitizes your body to the allergen and produces antibodies. These antibodies exist to break the allergen down the next time(s) it gets in your body. When the antibodies march out to deal with the allergen, histamines are released. These histamines – not the allergens -- cause the symptoms we associate with allergies – sneezing, rashes, itchy eyes, closed throat, etc.

Allergists usually breakdown allergic reactions into four types:

Type I or Anaphylactic reactions are the most common type of reactions we experience. These involve the use of IgE antibodies, which release histamines and cause inflammation. The most severe form of a Type I reaction is anaphylactic shock. During this reaction, excessive amounts of histamines circulate, causing severe reactions throughout the whole body. Anaphylactic shock is a medical emergency and can lead to acute, life-threatening respiratory failure[1].

Type II (Cytotoxic) reactions are mediated by IgM and IgG antibodies. These destroy the cell of the allergen by attacking its cell membrane. This type of reaction usually occurs when antibodies form against cells infected with microbes, or when antibodies attack the body’s own cells[2]. It may also occur in reaction to an incompatible blood transfusion.

Type III (Immunocomplex) reactions are different IgM and IgG antibodies that react with soluble antigens to form antigen-antibody complexes. This releases chemotactic agents, causing inflammation and tissue damage[3]. This is a common reaction to airborne allergens like fungal spores.

Type IV (Cell-mediated) reactions do not involve antibodies. Instead, they result from interactions between T-cells and antigens. This reaction takes longer to mount, so, symptoms may not appear until 18 to 24 hours after an allergen enters your system.

 

illustrated image of a girl dealing with allergy symptoms

 

How Do I Know if I Have Allergies?

Some allergies are easy to identify based on the kind of reactions that occur, but some are harder because they may be similar to other conditions. One way to determine if you might be allergic to something is to take note of the circumstances surrounding your possible allergic reaction. Did you use different cosmetics or eat something new? Has the weather been different? In some circumstances, you can omit the potential allergen from your routine to see if your body returns to normal.

If you suspect that you have allergies, the best practice is to talk to your doctor or an allergist. They can perform a skin or blood test to determine what kind of allergies you have and make recommendations for how to adapt to your new condition. Occasionally, they may recommend allergy shots to help desensitize your immune system to the allergen. Any real cure for allergies would involve “teaching” the immune system not to overreact to harmless proteins. To date, science has no method of doing this.

 

Don’t Let Allergies Get You Down

Even though allergies can be a pain to deal with (and in some cases, life threatening), there are things you can do to avoid the misery. Use these tips to enjoy life without worrying about allergies getting in the way.

  1. Know your allergies! This might seem obvious, but it’s SUPER IMPORTANT. Knowing what you’re allergic to and how severe a reaction it triggers can help you avoid exposure, and thus, reactions. It also allows you to be prepared and have allergy meds, relief supplements, or your epi-pen on hand in case of emergencies or the unexpected.

  2. Use natural supplements to combat histamines. There are many different types of allergy products out there, but most of them just treat the symptoms and often make you feel drowsy. AllerFree™ uses enzymes to break down the foreign proteins that trigger allergies, and that may help neutralize histamines. These enzymes are supported by herbs that help cleanse toxins from the blood and reduce the frequency and intensity of the discomforts of allergies. AllerFree™ is a natural, non-drowsy allergy supplement that supports a healthy immune response to allergens.*

  3. Vacuum and clean your home. Keeping a clean place can drastically minimize your allergen exposure. Opt for hardwood floors instead of carpet, if possible. Keep an eye on places that are frequently moist (around the washing machine, sink drains, shower, etc.), because moisture creates a prime breeding environment for molds and fungi. Finally, change your air filters regularly so that they can filter more allergens out of the air.

  4. For seasonal and pollen allergies: Limit time outdoors when pollen counts are high (like spring and fall). When you return from outside trips, shower to get allergens off your skin. Wash your hands often, keep windows closed, and vacuum/clean often to limit the buildup of pollen, dust and other allergens that come from outside.

  5. For animal dander allergies: For many, removing family pets isn’t an option. If that’s the case, try to keep them out of your bed, use air cleaners with HEPA filters, wash your pet frequently, and vacuum often.

  6. For food allergies: Work with your allergist to learn which foods cause problems and then do your best to avoid them. Read food labels carefully, as they reveal when a food you’re buying might contain traces of a food to which you’re allergic. For example, if you buy walnuts in a plant that also processes peanuts, your walnuts could contain traces of peanut residue. Food labels are required to reveal this information.


family of 4 enjoying a bike ride on a dusty forest trail

 

 


 

Sources

[1] Justiz Vaillant AA, Vashisht R, Zito PM. Immediate Hypersensitivity Reactions. [Updated 2021 Jun 11]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513315/

[2] https://www.britannica.com/science/immune-system-disorder/Treatment-of-type-I-allergic-responses#ref709085

[3] Justiz Vaillant AA, Vashisht R, Zito PM. Immediate Hypersensitivity Reactions. [Updated 2021 Jun 11]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513315/

September 20, 2021

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