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Like clockwork, literally, you wake up in the spring with a throbbing headache and itchy eyes or you spend your autumn feeling like your brain is going to explode. You call it allergies, chalk it up to the change of seasons, maybe get a prescription—and then you go on with your life. But didn’t you ever wonder what’s happening in your body to make you feel like that? The word allergy is a term that refers to your body’s reaction to anything—from peanuts to latex. An allergic reaction is your immune system totally overreacting to a substance that really shouldn’t be such a big deal. Your immune system might mistake a certain substance (allergen)—for example, animal dander or pollen—for a harmful agent, and try to fight it off with antibodies. This is what causes your body to feel under the weather in changes of season, or causes you to sneeze uncontrollably when your neighbor’s cat curls up to your leg, or causes your body to break out in hives if you drink milk. Every allergen causes a different reaction in an allergic body, some are distinct and some are less easily identifiable.

Blame your runny nose on inheritance because the reason you get allergic hay fever while your husband is breathing easy is just plain old genetics. The particular allergen you react to is up to chance, but if your mom was allergically inclined, you’re 50% sure of being allergic. And if mom and dad were both allergic, then you have a 75% chance of being so, too.
Most of the time you can control your allergies, while you can never completely cure yourself. Over-the-counter and prescription relief for allergic rhinitis (nasal irritation and inflammation) have become saviors for many chronically affected allergics. But, sometimes an allergic reaction can get kind of out-of-hand. It’s very rare when an allergic reaction can become extreme or life-threatening, a reaction called anaphylaxis. In anaphylaxis, your entire body is affected by the immune system’s response to the allergen and you can experience the sudden onset of such minor symptoms as:

  • Itchiness, inflammation and hives
  • Swelling
  • Dizziness
  • Cramps and abdominal pain

Or more severe symptoms, such as:

  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Mental confusion
  • Breathing and swallowing difficulty

If you are in danger of experiencing anaphylaxis, talk to your doctor about carrying medication with you that might curb these serious symptoms. Avoid the allergen at all costs and be extremely careful. When it comes to food allergies or other concrete substances, avoidance is a must. Your provider will give you directions for avoidance.

Airborne allergens are much more difficult to avoid. Most people experience some degree of allergic reaction in the change of seasons, in response to pollen in the air and environment. You might hear your local weather channel discussing the pollen count. This is the number or grains of pollen that were collected per square meter of air over the past 24 hours. This pollen count is an indicator of how your body may react to the environment. The pollen count is rated from high to low. If it’s high, and if you’re severely allergic to pollen, you might want to stay indoors. Talk with your doctor about avoiding pollen during the change of seasons. Stress levels may affect your allergies, just as stress can affect all of your body’s functions. Learning to relax and find balance may help to combat some of the allergic symptoms you experience.

There are various types of airborne allergens, including:

  • Pollen – Pollen causes seasonal allergies, i.e. sneezing, runny nose, congestion, itchy eyes and headaches.
  • Dust mites – Dust mites are tiny, microscopic organisms that live in the dust in your house and can mix with other allergens such as mold and dander and cause the same symptoms as seasonal allergies, except they might last year round.
  • Molds – Molds are microscopic fungi with spores that float around the air your breathe, just like pollen. They normally hang around basements and bathrooms, where the air is damp. Mold causes the same symptoms as seasonal allergies.
  • Animal dander – Your cute little pets secrete proteins from their skin and oil glands called dander. This dander causes symptoms like sneezing, coughing and itchy eyes. The same reactions can come from cockroaches—another reason to call the exterminator. Sometimes the allergy won’t develop until a year or two of living with the critter—a disappointing surprise for many proud pet owners.

You can limit exposure to some airborne allergens by keeping your pets away from your bed, and keeping them clean. Carpets might be a breeding ground for allergens, along with heavy drapes and certain pillows and blankets containing down feathers. Avoiding damp areas like your basement and mold-prone bathrooms will also help. Regularly cleaning your home will help to get rid of dust mites and molds that can contribute to air-borne allergies. Make dusting and sweeping a regular thing, and keep an eye on possible contributing factors. Ask your doctor about any suspicious sources of irritation, such as new detergents or pet hamsters, if you aren’t sure.

You’ll need to come to terms with the fact that allergies can never be cured, not even by those pricy allergy shots you can get from an allergist. These shots only decrease the severity of symptoms your body experiences in response to an allergen. So, if you’re allergic, you’re probably stuck with it. Learn how to deal, find a medication or treatment that works for you, and talk to your doctor about ways to avoid contact with allergens. Of course, if the allergen is pollen in the spring air, this might put you in a difficult place. New medications are developed constantly to allow you to take a brisk morning walk or get to your gardening without sneezing up a storm.

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