Allergy is defined as a "harmful, increased susceptibility to a specific substance," also known as hypersensitivity, while immunity is characterized as a "protective, enhanced resistance." The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology has an array of resources about allergic disease to help you understand how your allergies affect you, your friends and family.
Allergies often bring to mind sneezing, runny nose or watery eyes. While these are symptoms of some types of allergic disease, an allergic reaction is actually a result of a chain reaction that begins in your genes and is expressed by your immune system.
The Immune System
Your immune system controls how your body defends itself. For instance, if you have an allergy to pollen, your immune system identifies pollen as an invader or allergen. Your immune system overreacts by producing antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies travel to cells that release chemicals, causing an allergic reaction. This reaction usually causes symptoms in the nose, lungs, throat, sinuses, ears, lining of the stomach or on the skin.
Each type of IgE has specific "radar" for each type of allergen. That's why some people are only allergic to cat dander (they only have the IgE antibodies specific to cat dander); while others have allergic reactions to multiple allergens because they have many more types of IgE antibodies.
It is not yet fully understood why some substances trigger allergies and others do not, nor why some people have allergic reactions while others do not. A family history of allergies is the single most important factor that puts you at risk of developing allergic disease.
Types of Allergic Disease
Approximately 50 million Americans suffer from some form of allergic disease, and the number is increasing. There are several types of allergic disease.
- Allergic Rhinitis
- Atopic Dermatitis
- Food Allergy
- Otitis Media
- Allergic Conjunctivitis
Diagnosing and Treating Allergic Reactions
An allergist/immunologist, often referred to as an allergist, is best qualified to treat allergic diseases. To determine if you have an allergy, your allergist will take a thorough medical history and do a physical exam. He or she may perform allergy skin testing, or sometimes blood testing, to determine which substance is causing your allergy.
Once your allergy triggers are identified, your allergist can help you establish a treatment plan that is right for you. Allergy shots, or immunotherapy, may also be recommended. See the Allergy Shots brochure in this series for more information.
While there is not yet a cure for allergic disease, your allergist can properly diagnose the problem and develop a treatment plan to help you feel better and live better.
- Allergy symptoms are the result of a chain reaction that starts in your immune system.
- If you have a family history of allergies, you are at a much higher risk of developing allergic disease.
- The types of allergic disease include allergic rhinitis (hay fever), eczema, hives, asthma and food allergy.
- Food, medications, insect stings and exposure to latex can trigger anaphylaxis, which is a serious allergic reaction that happens very quickly and in some instances may be fatal.
- If you (or anyone you are with) begin to have an allergic reaction, call for medical help to get to the closest emergency room.
- Talk to your allergist about the many treatments available to help you feel better.
Feel Better. Live Better.
An allergist/immunologist, often referred to as an allergist, is a pediatrician or internist with at least two additional years of specialized training in the diagnosis and treatment of problems such as allergies, asthma, autoimmune diseases and the evaluation and treatment of patients with recurrent infections, such as immunodeficiency diseases.
The right care can make the difference between suffering with an allergic disease and feeling better. By visiting the office of an allergist, you can expect an accurate diagnosis, a treatment plan that works and educational information to help you manage your disease.
Source: American Academy of Allergy and Immunology