What are allergies?
Millions of people are affected by seasonal allergies with swollen, itchy and red eyes due to tree pollen, ragweed, house dust and animal dander.
Allergies are abnormal responses of the immune system to normally harmless substances. These substances are known as allergens. Some of the most common allergens affecting the ear, nose and throat are pollen, dust, mold and animal dander. When the body is exposed to an allergen, it releases a variety of chemicals, including histamine. Histamine is the precipitating cause of the allergic reaction.
What causes allergies?
The precise cause of allergies remains unknown, but a hereditary factor may be involved. If one parent has allergies, his or her child is much more likely than the general population to have allergies. If both parents suffer from allergies, a child has a greatly increased risk of developing an allergy. The specific allergen affecting the child may be different from the one affecting the parent. Allergies may develop over time once a threshold of exposure has been reached.
Common triggers for allergies may include:
- Specific foods
- Bee/wasp stings
- Animal dander
How can allergies be treated?
The most effective way to treat allergies is simply to avoid exposure to allergens but, of course, this is not always possible. For outdoor allergies, remaining indoors as much as possible during certain seasons may relieve symptoms. Because allergens often enter the body through the eyes, wraparound sunglasses may also prove helpful. Other treatments include antihistamines, decongestants, nasal sprays and eye drops. Allergy shots, a type of immunotherapy, may also be used as treatment. To increase a body's tolerance, an allergen is injected at increasingly larger amounts over time.