Allergies 101



BY:  JAMIE LOBER

It can be hard to find a person who does not have allergies, especially during the change of seasons. While you may associate them with spring, allergies come in all forms and are present year-round. In North Carolina, the three most commonly reported allergens are pollens, like grass, weed and tree pollen; mold; and dust mites. Raleigh, Greensboro, and Charlotte were actually once listed as some of the worst U.S. cities for allergies.

The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology said they are among the most common chronic health conditions worldwide, and are complex because they can do anything from make you feel miserable to threaten your life. The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology explained that when someone has allergies, what is happening is that the immune system mistakes an otherwise harmless substance as an invader. The substance is referred to as an “allergen,” and when the immune system responds by producing antibodies, that is when you have symptoms.

There is no one cause of allergies. Sometimes it can be genetic, while other times, the environment is to blame. There is a long list of contributors, including:

  • Dust
  • Mold
  • Medications/drugs
  • Food
  • Animal dander
  • Insect stings

The hard part about allergies is that many are inescapable, but you can plan your day differently to minimize the distress. To deal with pollen, it is best to stay indoors on windy days. If your child is playing outside, he should change clothes or shower as soon as he gets in the house. Vacuuming regularly and having a HEPA filter can make a difference inside. If you watch the pollen counts, you may choose to stay indoors on days it is high, or at least keep the windows closed.

Mold likes the humidity, so this is problematic for the Tar Heel State. Airborne mold is higher at night, so keeping the windows closed is a good idea. A dehumidifier can be a great tool. If you have to mow the lawn, try to wear a mask. One thing the climate is not responsible for are the dust mites. Washing bedding in at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit, using allergen-proof bed covers and dusting and vacuuming regularly are good tips.

With kids, it can be hard to decipher the difference between allergies and an illness. Allergies can come along with a headache and runny nose, so your child may complain of a cold. Antihistamines or nasal corticosteroids may be recommended by the doctor. It is important not to self-treat. You also want to be aware of what your child is allergic to, so you can avoid it if possible. If you are unsure, allergy testing may provide some insight.

Another common culprit is food, as it can cause an abnormal immune response with mild to severe symptoms, like itchiness, hives, swelling of the tongue, or low blood pressure. It can happen anywhere from minutes to several hours after exposure. Both awareness and guidelines have evolved over the years. In the past, physicians encouraged parents to delay introducing infants to highly allergenic foods like fish, dairy, eggs, and peanuts, thinking that it would prevent allergies. Now the train of thought has changed, to where physicians are finding early introduction decreases the risk of allergy down the road. Managing food allergies means not eating the food that is responsible for the allergic reaction. You want to get in the habit of carefully reading labels and doing your best to eliminate the chance of any cross-contamination. If you are at a restaurant, take the time to let the waiter know of your food allergy, just to confirm that the food is prepared in a safe manner and does not contain any ingredients that will upset your body.

There is a lot to consider when it comes to treatment. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America found that successful treatment is based on medical history, results of allergy tests, and severity of symptoms. Treatment can be anything, from simply avoiding the allergens to medicine or immunotherapy, which is where allergens are given as a shot, or sublingual immunotherapy, where it is placed under the tongue. The way the shots work is that over time a person becomes gradually desensitized to the allergen. When you take preventive measures and consult with a doctor or allergist, it becomes easier to take control of your allergies and live more productively.

 


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