An allergy is an adverse reaction that the body has to a particular substance, such as to food, drugs, or even something in the environment. Here, Face2Face Africa will give you the skinny on what they are and how to fight them.
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Why Allergies Occur
Substances that trigger allergies are known as allergens. They include grass, pollen, dust mites, animal skin or hair, food (especially shell fish, nuts, soy, eggs, milk, and some fruits), drugs (penicillin and penicillin-based drugs), latex, and insect stings/bites.
Normally, your body’s immune system is supposed to be a defense system, fighting germs or foreign substances and expelling them. However, in most allergic reactions, your immune system is responding to a false alarm: it is sensing an allergen as though it is a threat, even though it isn’t. In response to this “threat,” your immune system produces antibodies to fight it off. This fight is known as an immune response and occurs typically the first time you are exposed to that allergen or “threat.”
The next time you come in contact with the same allergen, your immune system remembers the previous time you were exposed to it and produces more antibodies; it is this increased production of antibodies that causes a release of chemicals, e.g. histamine, in your body which then results in an allergic reaction.
Allergies can cause a variety of symptoms, ranging from runny nose, sneezing, rashes, skin itching, swelling, itchy eyes, and even asthma. Symptoms of allergies can also range from minor to severe. The severe form of allergies, known as anaphylaxis, can be life-threatening. Studies have shown that genetics and the environment play a role in a person’s development of allergies.
Symptoms of allergies often depend on your particular allergy and can involve the respiratory system, skin, eyes, and digestive system. Some specific symptoms include:
Hay Fever (allergic rhinitis). This may cause:
- Nasal congestion
- Itchy, runny nose
- Itchy eyes
- Watery or swollen eyes
Dermatitis or Eczema (atopic dermatitis).This often causes:
- Itchy red skin (in fair-skinned people)
- Flaking or peeling skin
Food Allergies. This may cause:
- Tingling sensations in your mouth
- Swelling of your lips, tongue, throat, and/or face
- A breakout of hives
- And even a severe reaction (anaphylaxis)
Insect Stings/Bites. This may cause:
- Swelling at the site of the sting
- Itching or hives all over your body
- Cough, chest tightness, wheezing, or shortness of breath
Drug reactions. These symptoms include:
- Rashes or itchy skin that may peel off
- Facial swelling
- Difficulty in breathing
Anaphylaxis. As mentioned earlier, this is a severe life-threatening form of allergies. It is a medical emergency. Commonly, allergies to some foods, drugs, and insect stings have the potential to result in anaphylactic reactions. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
– Loss of consciousness
– Severe difficulty in breathing as a result of swollen airways
– Skin rashes
– Nausea and vomiting
While most allergies can’t be cured, a number of treatments can help. You can prevent an allergy and its complications by getting allergy shots, using antihistamines, and following simple general guidelines. These guidelines include:
- Keeping records. If you get allergies often, try to keep track of your daily activities. Note when symptoms occur, what worsens them, and what you do that seems to relieve the symptoms. These notes can help you and your doctor identify trigger factors and the best ways to prevent your allergies.
- Avoid known trigger factors. This is the simplest, most effective way of preventing allergies. Once you can identify substances you react to, avoid any more contact with them as much as you can.
- Have an emergency card on your person at all times. If you are prone to allergies, it is important you have an emergency card with you every time. This card should detail your name, an emergency contact number, and information stating what allergies you have. This helps in letting people know that you have a serious allergy in case you have a severe reaction in public and can’t communicate.
When You Should Call Your Doctor
While allergies can mostly be managed at home or on your own, it is important to know when you need expert help. Please call your emergency response service or go see your doctor if:
– You have trouble breathing or if wheezing or tightness in the chest develops.
– Your throat, tongue, mouth, or face swells up.
– Skin rashes, itching, or swelling develops or gets worse.
– Symptoms have not improved after two weeks of treating yourself at home.
– Symptoms become more severe or more frequent.
Don’t let allergies get the best of you…take charge of your health. Be more aware, avoid triggers, and stay healthy!
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