Spring is usually a season that most of us look forward to after the long dull days of winter. However, those who suffer from allergies do not look kindly on the pollens that start this season off. The word “allergy” was first used by Clemens von Pirquet in 1906.[i] An allergy is the state of abnormal hypersensitivity acquired through exposure to a particular sensitizing agent called an allergen. The body reacts with an exaggerated immune response causing tissue damage and disordered function, rather than immunity.
Causes and Symptoms:
The risk factors for allergies are usually based in two categories. The first one is host, including heredity, sex, race and age, with heredity being by far the most prevalent. The second category is environment factors such as pollution, allergen levels, exposure to infectious diseases during early childhood and dietary changes. Even chronic stress can aggravate allergic conditions. When the body’s immune system is attacked it can trigger the release of inflammatory chemicals such as histamine.[ii] Diagnosis usually means testing through blood and/or skin samples to ascertain what has caused the outbreak and sometimes several substances may result in a positive test. A positive result may or may not mean there is a significant allergy to a substance. In some cases, an allergy can appear suddenly and then never return again.
Allergies are common. In the developed world, about 20% of people are affected by allergic rhinitis, about 6% of people have at least one food allergy and about 20% suffer from dermatitis at some point in time. Anaphylaxis occurs in between 0.05–2% of people. Rates of many allergic diseases appear to be increasing.
Besides pollen and other airborne causes, allergic diseases appear under other conditions caused by sensitivity of the immune system to allergens found in food, exposure to latex or some metals, insect stings and in some cases medications. Symptoms can vary from stuffed or runny nose, coughs, itching rashes, headaches and shortness of breath or swelling. The symptoms can range from mild to very severe, especially in the case of food, insect stings and medications, where an emergency epinephrine or adrenaline injection is necessary to resolve a severe unexpected attack.
With severe allergic reactions, also called anaphylaxis, the digestive, respiratory and circulatory systems of the body can be affected and depending on the severity can cause constricted breathing, swelling, coma and even death, hence the need for an adrenaline injection.
Airborne dust or pollen can affect the eyes, nose and lungs. Rhinitis, also known as hay fever, is inflammation of the mucous membranes that line the nose causing sneezing and swelling. Airborne allergens can also cause itching and red, watery eyes. Inhaled allergens can also increase mucus in the lungs, to cause shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing.
Food allergies rarely cause respiratory reactions, but symptoms may include abdominal pain, bloating, vomiting, diarrhea and itchy or swelling of the skin known as “hives”. Hives can emerge suddenly and disappear just as quickly without leaving a trace. They can be caused just by touching an allergen, such as petting a dog or cat, as animal dander is a known allergen.
If the cause of an allergy is known then avoidance of the food, chemical, animal or condition is usually the first way to approach the problem. The use of medications such as steroids or antihistamines can be the next step and as previously mentioned, for severe reactions, some people may have to carry an epinephrine injection pen.
Another approach is allergen immunotherapy, in which people are exposed to larger and larger amounts of allergen to build up tolerance. This is useful for some types of allergies, such as hay fever and reactions to some insect bites.
Mild cases of dermatitis can be treated by bathing the spots with medicated lotions or a mixture of baking soda and water, witch hazel or some other cooling solution.
For your spinal health and wellness always see your chiropractor on a regular basis to keep the paths of communication open between your brain and your nervous system that “talks” to all parts of your body.
[i] Kay AB (2000). “Overview of ‘allergy and allergic diseases: with a view to the future'”. Br. Med. Bull. 56 (4): 843–64. doi:10.1258/00071420019 03481. PMID 11359624.
[ii] “How Does an Allergic Response Work?”. NIAID. April 21, 2015. Retrieved 20 June 2015.