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  • Writer's pictureIrene Park

What is an Allergy?

It’s spring, the season of allergies, but what exactly is an allergic reaction? It’s your immune system reacting to a foreign substance. Usually, your immune system’s antibodies doesn’t identify such allergens as harmful, but allergies occur in cases that create antibodies that identify these substances as harmful. The immune system’s reactions cause symptoms commonly related to allergies such as sneezing, itching nose, eyes, mouth, and anaphylaxis. As the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S., allergies come in many different forms and can be divided into five main types.

The first type of allergic symptoms is environmental, often a reaction to an allergen or pollutant in the air. This creates symptoms such as sneezing, an itchy nose, and conjunctivitis, a case of red and swollen eyes. Although it may depend on what he/she is allergic to, these allergies tend to get worse over the spring or summer as many with environmental allergies are most commonly sensitive towards pollen from trees, flowers, and even grass that blooms heavily during the spring. Recent studies, however, have proven that cases of allergic rhinitis have increased as global climate change also increased air pollutants in major cities. To prevent worsening symptoms, professionals suggest using an air purifier with a HEPA filter and pollen masks to decrease as much contact with the allergens as possible.

Another type of allergy are food allergies. Mostly prevalent in nuts, milk, and shellfish, in the United States, food allergies are probably the easiest allergy to be affected by. Food allergies can be especially dangerous as it commonly causes an anaphylactic reaction that causes the immune system to release chemicals that weaken the pulse and narrows the airways. Some warning signs to look for before going into anaphylactic shock are hives, faintness, swollen lips and tongue, etc. This issue is mostly effectively resolved by epinephrine which is widely distributed through epinephrine shots also in the form of EpiPens.

Other types of allergies also cause anaphylactic shocks such as insect sting allergies, allergy to medications, and finally atopic dermatitis. Allergies can be life threatening in many unfortunate situations and even just insect sting related anaphylaxis causes about 90-100 deaths every year in the U.S. To prevent such outcomes, one can become aware of their own allergies. Family history of asthma and/or allergies increase the risk of developing an allergy as well as being under the age of 18. Tests can be taken in order to determine what allergens one’s body is hypersensitive to in forms of a blood test, skin prick test, and a patch test. It is recommended that one get tested once every few years and even every six to twelve months for children under the age of three. To alleviate allergic symptoms one can try immunotherapy, a plan that helps develop tolerance over a long time period or take antihistamines to block the release of histamines from the immune system.

However, it is always best to take precautions by carrying two auto-injectors and wearing a medical identification bracelet with information about one’s allergies which would be especially helpful in a medical emergency. I hope you all stay safe during allergy season and please make sure to get tested for allergies this year!

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