Having an allergy means that your body is sensitive to a substance that to most people is harmless. The substance causing the symptoms is called an allergen. Because the offending allergen is usually a specific protein, people may be allergic to only one substance, or to several.
Allergic rhinitis or hay fever. This type is an allergic reaction characterized by sneezing, coughing, itchy nose, mouth and throat, congestion and/or runny nose. The offending allergens are usually pollens, molds, dust mites and animal allergens. Allergic
Pollen. Trees, grasses and weeds reproduce by forming a fine, powdery substance called pollen. Air carries the pollen from the male structures to the female ones. Because it is airborne, pollen can enter the human body in several ways. As air is breathed in through the nose, nasal structures filter out the pollen. In the nasal mucus membranes the pollen comes into contact with the mast cells. Recognizing the pollen as an allergen, mast cells start producing histamine. The histamine dilates the blood vessels, causing swelling, inflammation and congestion. Because pollen is so fine, it can come in contact with the mucus membranes of the eyes, leading to watery, itchy eyes. Pollen that lands on hair, clothing or pet fur is touched by the allergy sufferer’s hands, which then touch the eyes or nose, creating the cascade of symptoms.
Most pollen allergies are respiratory, affecting the nose, eyes and mouth, making breathing difficult. They are usually seasonal. In certain climates, however, allergy sufferers may have little respite, especially if they are allergic to different pollens, which “bloom” throughout the year. Humidity usually makes the symptoms worse, as the pollen get trapped in the moisture of the air and remains airborne for longer periods of time.
Indoor allergies (molds and mites). While pollen is more seasonal in nature, allergies to these indoor allergens run year-round, sometimes referred to as “perennial” (versus “seasonal”). Symptoms tend to be primarily respiratory in nature. Perhaps you only have problems when cleaning out a closet, or when spending long periods of time in a damp basement, or when cleaning the bathroom. Molds can be found both indoors as well as outdoors. Raking leaves or turning a mulch pile can be particularly irritating. Using a filter mask when performing these activities can lessen their negative effects. Dust mites are especially problematic, as the irritating particles are minute. The treatment section discusses ways to minimize exposure. They particularly invade our beds and bedrooms.
Animal allergies (pets). We love our pets. So allergies to our animals have an emotional component. The allergen is not the hair or fur, but the dander. Whether the animal is housed outdoors, such as a horse or rabbit, or indoors, such as a cat or dog, the resulting allergic reaction is the same.
With outdoor animals, it is easier to limit the frequency and duration of exposure than with indoor pets. Certainly avoid having the pet in the bedroom. Of all the rooms in the house, the bedroom is the most important one to keep as clean of the allergen as possible. For most people, the term “pet” is synonymous with “warm and fuzzy,” which includes anything with hair, fur or feathers. This leaves turtles, hermit crabs and reptiles.
Insect allergies. Insect bites and stings can be annoying, painful and localized, or can lead to a systemic allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis, a sudden, severe, potentially fatal, systemic allergic reaction that can involve different areas of the body such as the skin, respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract and cardiovascular system.
Symptoms occur within minutes to two hours after contact with the allergy-causing substance. A local reaction may include swelling of a whole arm or leg. This is not an allergic reaction, just a severe local reaction. Anyone who has experienced more than a local reaction to an insect bite or sting, such as swelling beyond the local area (fingers, arms, etc.), itching all over the body or any difficulty breathing should discuss with their physician the prescription of an emergency epinephrine kit. Such a kit should be with the person at all times.
Wearing shoes, long pants and sleeves, and avoiding perfumes or scented deodorants can decrease exposure. For local redness, pain or swelling, a cool compress can minimize discomfort. Seek medical attention if symptoms go beyond the local site.
Source: The News, 8/7/2008