Allergies - Allergies Are More Common Than Ever, Affecting Up To One In Three People

When the body's immune system suffers from a disorder it is termed allergy. Allergic reactions can occur to even normally harmless substances found in the environment. Allergy is referred to as type I or immediate hypersensitivity. Certain white blood cells in the body called mast cells and basophils get excessively activated by an antibody known as IgE. This leads to extreme inflammation. Hay fever, hives, eczema, asthma, food allergies and reactions to the sting of some insects like wasps and bees fall under allergic reactions. Severe allergy to dietary or environmental allergens or to some medicines can even lead to life-threatening reactions and death in some people.

Mild forms of allergies like allergic rhinitis or hay fever are quite common. Its symptoms include itchiness, allergic conjunctivitis and runny nose. Allergens like latex, after coming into contact with the skin, cause contact dermatitis or eczema and are quite common. Skin allergies result in rashes or inflammation within the skin. Allergens like dust or pollen are airborne particles. In such cases the symptoms arise in areas that are in contact with air, like the eyes, nose and lungs. Allergens can play a major role in aggravating asthmatic conditions. That is caused by narrowing of the airways (bronchoconstriction) and increased production of mucus in the lungs, shortness of breath (dyspnea), coughing and wheezing.

Allergic reactions can also result from certain foods, insect stings and reactions to medicines like aspirin and antibiotics like penicillin. Food allergy symptoms include bloating, abdominal pain, vomiting, itchy skin, diarrhea and swelling of the skin during hives. Antibiotics, medicines and insect stings can produce a systemic allergic response also called anaphylaxis. In such cases multiple organ systems can be affected like the digestive system, the respiratory system and the circulatory system. Depending on the severity rate, it can cause bronchoconstriction, cutaneous reactions, hypotension, edema, coma and even death.

The severity of the response requires injections of epinephrine. The nature of anaphylaxis is such that it may seem the reaction is subsiding, but it can recur after a period of time. Nowadays, there are many tests to diagnose different kinds of allergies. Among the tests are analyzing the blood to check the presence and levels of allergen-specific IgE and testing the skin for responses to known allergens. Treatments for allergies include avoiding the allergens, use of anti-histamines, immunotherapy to desensitize the response to allergen, steroids or other oral medications and targeted therapy.

The risk factors for allergy is divided into two categories: host and environmental. Host factors include sex, heredity, race and age. However, certain recent cases of allergic disorders cannot be explained by heredity alone. Among the major environmental factors are alterations in exposure to infectious diseases during early childhood, environmental pollution, allergen levels and dietary changes.

Items as unrelated as pollens, animals like cats, shellfish, insect venom, mould and peanuts can all lead to some kind of allergy. With so many substances causing allergy, it is obvious that allergic diseases have become the major reasons for various illness. Food allergies and insect stings have even lead to quite a high number of deaths. Adult individuals usually do not lose the allergies but children can often outgrow them.