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
- 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
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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