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Allergy; Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

Allergy
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Allergy also known as allergic diseases are a number of conditions caused by hypersensitivity of the immune system to typically harmless substances in the environment. These diseases include hay fever, food allergies, atopic dermatitis, allergic asthma, and anaphylaxis. Symptoms may include red eyes, an itchy rash, sneezing, a runny nose, shortness of breath, or swelling. Food intolerances and food poisoning are separate conditions.

Allergies can strike anytime, and anywhere. They’re one of the most common ailments, affecting millions of people each year. There are many causes of allergies, including organic and inorganic matter. Allergies develop as a result of a hypersensitive reaction by your immune system to a foreign substance, causing a range of symptoms to appear. While most allergic reactions are not severe, some people may develop life-threatening complications. Contact your doctor if you suspect being allergic to something.

Causes of Allergy

Latex

Latex allergies are among the most common types of allergies in the Western world. This kind of allergy usually develops as a reaction to previous exposures to latex. People who suffer from latex allergy are likely to experience itching, swelling, and hives in the area exposed to the material. In more severe cases, it can cause wheezing, difficulty breathing, as well as a headache. Depending on the sensitivity level, symptoms may develop a few minutes after exposure, and up to an hour afterward. Luckily, latex-free products can easily be found in most supermarkets.

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Dust Mites

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More than 20 million people in the US suffer from allergies due to dust mites, making this by far one of the most common causes of allergy. Dust mites are tiny, microscopic creatures that consume dead skin cells, both human and animal. Dust mites are notorious for their ability to persist even in the harshest of climates. The higher a number of dust mites, the more severe symptoms will appear. Another conditioning factor is the degree of sensitivity. Symptoms can range from mild, including coughing and itching, to more serious symptoms.

Nickel

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Another frequent cause of allergy is nickel. Nickel is a metal that is most often found in different jewelry, such as earrings, bracelets, and rings. The skin around the ear can be especially sensitive to nickel, causing symptoms such as itchiness and irritation. In some cases, earrings containing nickel may lead to infections of the skin. To ensure that your earrings are nickel-free, look for a certifying engraving that can be found on the metallic earring locks. You can also consider wearing wooden jewelry, which is 100% free of nickel. To test for symptoms, rub your earring on the skin of ear and look for red patches of skin.

Cockroaches

As terrifying as it may sound, cockroaches are one of the most probable causes of allergic symptoms. Cockroaches can trigger symptoms in many people due to a unique protein found in their excrement and saliva. When it enters contact with humans, it can cause symptoms affecting the skin, lungs, and eyes. In some cases, cockroaches can even trigger an asthma attack. To reduce the risk of a cockroach infestation, make sure there is no food lying around the house, and remove any excess moisture from walls and the floor. If you still report symptoms, contact an exterminator.

Certain Foods

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Many people suffer from food allergies: in fact, you may be one of more than 15 million Americans that report some food or drink allergy. Some of the most common forms of food allergy include nuts, milk, soy, fish, and onions. You are considered to have a food allergy if your body’s immune system reacts aggressively to the presence of certain foods. Depending on the person, symptoms can range from mild to severe. Some of the most frequent symptoms include a cough, diarrhea, vomiting and stomach ache. Severe symptoms can be life-threatening, so seek medical attention if you experience difficulty breathing, dizziness, or severe pain.

Mold

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If you live in a damp, wet environment that experiences frequent rainfall and humidity, you may be at risk of developing household mold. Mold can grow nearly anywhere as long as the bacteria that cause it can thrive. Mold is classified as a fungus, and it can reproduce and spread. If mold particles enter the nasal passage, they can provoke allergic symptoms to develop, including irritation of the eyes, cough, as well as asthma attacks. To reduce the presence of mold, ensure that surfaces are kept dry and free from moisture.

Quaternium 

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In most cases, symptoms related to allergies are caused by organic matter, such as pollen or animal fur. While these are often the most common trigger of allergies, they aren’t the only ones. Many human-made and artificial products can also cause an allergic reaction to take place, including many cosmetics. That’s why women – who wear the most amount of makeup – are more likely to experience these symptoms. One of the most common allergens is quaternium 15, which is a type of preservative abundantly found in different cosmetic products. Shampoo, nail polish, and sunscreen are just a few of the products containing it.

Spring fever

Spring brings warmer weather and longer days, while the autumn ushers in crisp air and pumpkin-spice lattes. But these seasonal changes aren’t welcomed by everyone. For many of us, they’re eclipsed by the itchy eyes, sneezing, and congestion of hay fever and other allergies. What to do?

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Some allergies are severe and require the attention of a doctor or other health care professional. For milder cases, though, home remedies may provide all the relief you need, with relatively little expense or hassle. Even people with bad allergies who need medication may find these at-home tips helpful for easing symptoms.

Neti pots

They may look exotic, but Neti pots are fast becoming a mainstream remedy for allergies and stuffed-up sinuses. The treatment, which involves rinsing your nasal cavity with a saline solution, flushes out allergens (like pollen) and loosens mucus.

Using a Neti pot is simple. First, fill the pot with a mixture of salt and warm water (you can buy premeasured kits or make your own). Then tilt your head to the side and pour the solution in one nostril until it flows out the other, repeating the process on the opposite side. (Important note: Use boiled or distilled water only, as tap water can introduce potentially dangerous organisms into your system.)

Saline spray

Prepackaged saline nasal sprays function much like Neti pots, but some allergy sufferers may find them easier to use. Sprays deliver saline solution a bit more gently and evenly, whereas pots can sometimes be a little “sloppy,” says Robert Graham, MD, an internist and integrative medicine specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital, in New York City.

Saline sprays should provide comparable results. Although Neti pots have been studied more extensively, and in some cases may prove more effective, sprays too have been shown to help with allergy symptoms and other sinus problems.

Local honey

Eating honey produced by bees in your region can help relieve allergies. The bees transfer pollen from flower blossoms to honey, so if you eat a little honey every day you’ll gradually become inoculated against the irritating effects of pollen.

That’s the widely held theory, anyway. Unfortunately, there’s little to no scientific evidence to back it up. Although a small 2011 study from Finland that compared regular honey and pollen-laced honey did report modestly encouraging results, an earlier study in the United States found that unaltered local honey had no impact on allergy symptoms.

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HEPA filter

High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters ease symptoms by trapping allergens and other airborne irritants, such as pet dander and dust. Portable air cleaners equipped with HEPA filters can purify the air in bedrooms and other confined spaces, but whole-house systems that incorporate HEPA filters into your home’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system are generally more effective.

Air conditioners and dehumidifiers also can help clean air, Dr. Graham says. They remove moisture from the air and floor, which will curb the growth of the mold and mildew that can worsen allergies.

Herbs and supplements

Several herbs and supplements—including spirulina, eyebright, and goldenseal—have been studied for allergy relief. The plant extract butterbur, which is thought to reduce airway inflammation, has produced what are perhaps the strongest results. In a pair of clinical trials led by a Swiss research team, butterbur tablets eased symptoms just as much as the over-the-counter antihistamines fexofenadine and cetirizine, respectively.

For his part, Dr. Graham suggests his patients first try bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapple that is sometimes used to curb inflammation after sinus surgery. “It reduces swelling and improves breathing,” he says. “It’s a safe first step.”

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Showering

Anyone who has even been stuffed-up knows the impressive ability of a steaming hot shower to soothe sinuses and clear nasal passages, if only temporarily. But showers offer an added benefit for springtime allergy sufferers. A quick rinse after spending time outdoors can help remove allergens from your skin and hair—and prevent them from spreading to clothes, furniture, pillowcases, and other surfaces where they’re likely to dog you.

This is especially true if you’ve been gardening. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology recommends stripping off your shoes and clothes and showering immediately if you’ve been weeding, pruning, or planting.

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Steam

Don’t feel like getting soaked and toweling off every time your sinuses get clogged? Other methods of inhaling steam—store-bought vaporizers, for instance—can flush out mucus and moisten dry nasal passages nearly as well as a shower.

The easiest method is simply to pour boiling water into a bowl or other container, drape a towel over your head to form a tent, and inhale deeply through your nose for five to 10 minutes. (Just be careful not to get your face too close to the water, as you may scald yourself.) If you find yourself really clogged up, this may be more convenient than taking several showers a day.

Eucalyptus oil

The strong, piney aroma of eucalyptus oil can supercharge steam inhalation, helping to open your sinuses and nasal passages further. Some research suggests the essential oil, extracted from the leaves of the eucalyptus tree, has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, but if nothing else the vapor provides a bracing, menthol-like sensation that can make breathing seem easier.

Try adding a few drops of oil to a bowl of steaming water, or to the floor of the shower before you step in. Just don’t swallow the oil or apply it directly to your skin; it’s toxic in concentrated amounts.

Spicy foods

Many people swear by the sinus-clearing effects of spicy foods like chili peppers, wasabi, Dijon mustard, fresh garlic, and horseradish. Sure enough, an active ingredient in garlic (allyl thiosulfinate) and a similar ingredient in wasabi (isothiocyanates) do appear to have a temporary decongestant effect.

Foods with a kick can definitely start your eyes watering and open your nasal passages, but it’s unclear whether they provide anything more than fleeting relief.

Tea

Holding your face over a hot cup of tea may open your nasal passages, but the steam isn’t the only thing that’s beneficial. The menthol in peppermint tea, for instance, seems to work as a decongestant and expectorant, meaning it can break up mucus and help clear it out of your nose and throat.

Similarly, green tea contains a compound (methylated epigallocatechin gallate) that has been shown in lab teststo have antioxidant properties that inhibit allergic reactions. These results may not necessarily translate into noticeable symptom relief for spring allergy sufferers, however.

If you do have spring allergies, you’ll probably want to stay away from chamomile, as it can cause reactions in people allergic to ragweed.

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References

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