More Slideshows from eMedicineHealth
Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis)
The Naughty List of Holiday Foods
Top 10 Health News Stories of 2009
Uncover Your Allergy Triggers
About 20% of all humans develop allergies. An allergic reaction is a condition that develops when the immune system overreacts to otherwise harmless antigens. The overreaction can range from mild symptoms such as sneezing to life-threatening conditions (anaphylaxis). Although a huge variety of substances may trigger an allergic reaction, this slideshow will present the 10 most common allergy triggers.
Trees, grasses, weeds, and flowers all produce pollen. Many types of pollen can trigger hay fever or seasonal allergies. Symptoms are usually are not life-threatening but are irritating (sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, and watery and itchy eyes). Treatments can include over-the-counter drugs, prescription drugs, and/or allergy shots. Some allergy symptoms from pollen can be reduced or avoided by staying indoors, especially on windy days and running air conditioning or using air filters.
Animal dander, a protein mix secreted in animal’s skin and saliva, causes allergic reactions in many people. Allergies to dander may take a long time to develop (over 2 years for some people) and the symptoms (similar to pollen allergy symptoms) may linger for months. If your pet is causing you to have symptoms, avoid carpets that can sequester dander, wash your pet regularly, and keep the pet out of your bedroom. Home air filtration and frequent vacuuming nay reduce your exposure to dander, but you may need to get allergy shots, too.
Dust mites are common allergens. These tiny microscopic mites live in house dust and feed on pollen, bacteria, fungi, and the dead skin from humans and animals. Dust mite allergies are reduced or prevented by keeping the home dust-free and avoiding “dust collectors” like stuffed animals or complex items that are hard to clean. Other actions like washing sheets in hot water or keeping bedding covered to reduce dust collection may also help.
Some people develop severe allergic reactions to insect stings that can be life- threatening while others develop mild-to-moderate symptoms. Mild symptoms may include redness and localized swelling while moderate symptoms may include extensive redness and swelling, some nausea, fatigue, and low fever that may not resolve for a week. Anaphylaxis, a term used to describe a severe allergic reaction, produces symptoms that can include swelling of the face, mouth, tongue, throat, and other serious symptoms such as difficulty breathing and low blood pressure. Itching and/or hives on the body also often develop. Untreated, anaphylaxis can result in death. People with severe allergic reactions to stings (and other allergens) should be treated immediately with epinephrine (they can carry a portable dose of epinephrine in an EpiPen). Allergy shots are recommended to prevent anaphylaxis for certain insect stings for some patients.
Molds, like mites, are microscopic. There are many types, most of which can cause allergic reactions with symptoms similar to those produced by pollen and dust mites. Because molds need a lot of moisture to survive and grow, they usually live in damp or wet areas. Bathrooms and basements are prime areas for molds inside the home while grass and mulch outside provide good growth conditions. Good ventilation in bathrooms and basements helps dry areas and suppresses mold growth. Cutting grass, raking leaves, and spreading mulch may trigger mold allergy symptoms.
Food allergies are common. The foods that cause allergic symptoms most often are milk, nuts, eggs, and shellfish (shrimp). Symptoms of a food allergy usually happen rapidly, within a few minutes of eating the food. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are often symptoms of food allergy; however, many people have severe food allergies so symptoms of anaphylaxis can occur. These severe reactions need treatment with epinephrine immediately. People should avoid all foods that contain any of the food items they are allergic to.
Latex, made from rubber based components that contain proteins, is found in medical gloves, medical devices, condoms, and other manufactured products. People can react to this substance even when it simply touches their skin. Allergic reactions range from mild to severe (anaphylaxis) so epinephrine (EpiPen) may be needed to treat some people. Many doctors recommend that patients wear medical alert bracelets if they have serious allergic reactions to latex or other substances.
Many people have allergic reactions to medications that range from mild to life-threatening. Although some mild reactions may be treated with antihistamines or steroids, most doctors will suggest you stop taking the medication. Your doctor may find a substitute medication that you are not allergic to. Again, those people that have had severe allergic reactions to medications should consider carrying an EpiPen and have a medical bracelet or some way to notify medical caregivers of their severe allergy.
Although many allergists question if a fragrance is a true allergen or simply an irritant, the mild-to-moderate symptoms some people get when exposed to certain perfumes, candle smoke, laundry detergent odors, or scents accompanying other similar products mimic allergy symptoms. Although only a few people suffer severe symptoms, most symptoms abate when the odor (fragrance) containing item is removed. Using fragrance-free products can help avoid the symptoms.
Cockroaches, unfortunately, are everywhere in both urban and rural areas. The proteins in their droppings, saliva, and appendages can function as allergens. Some investigators blame cockroach allergies to an increase in asthma in the last 30 years. The more an area is infested with cockroaches, the higher the concentration of allergens and the more likely people will get allergic reactions. Keeping cockroaches out of living environments helps reduce and prevent cockroach-related allergic reactions.
More Reading on Allergies