One in three Americans is affected by seasonal or year-round allergies, leading to chronic sleep troubles, poor focus, mood disorders, and infections and inflammation for millions of Americans.
Though allergy symptoms can be fairly mild in some people, they can lead to utter misery in others and can translate to more missed workdays and loss of productivity.
Pet allergies and food allergies are also common, and many people may not be fully aware of their specific allergens. A full allergy testing panel can reveal your specific allergens, as well as the immunotherapy treatment options available to you.
An allergy is an immune response to the body’s exposure to a specific foreign substance. Research suggests that certain genetic mechanisms may give the body a tendency toward a specific allergen at birth, but most allergies are acquired through exposure and can occur at any age. Oddly, you can experience an allergic reaction to an allergen that you’ve been exposed to many times before without incident.
When your body decides that a specific allergen is now an invader — for whatever reason — you have developed an allergy to that foreign substance. During exposure, your immune system studies the allergen and prepares for another exposure by developing antibodies, which are designed to detect it. The next time you’re exposed to that foreign substance, your immune system recognizes it and activates cells in your body to disable it. These cells release a chemical called histamine, which causes swelling and other allergy symptoms.
Your body has a threshold of exposure for most allergens, meaning that it can handle a certain amount of a specific allergen. Too much exposure, however, and your body triggers an attack on this substance. Over time, you may outgrow an allergy and see your symptoms become less severe, or they may worsen.
Although food allergies and pet allergies may differ in severity from rhinitis (hay fever) or other common allergies, the symptoms of an allergic reaction are often similar. Usually, an individual having an allergic reaction experiences:
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
Other, more severe reactions are referred to as symptoms of anaphylaxis. These are life-threatening and typically occur with exposure to drugs, penicillin, insect stings, food allergies (peanuts, shellfish), x-ray dye, and latex. Please seek emergency medical care if any of the below symptoms occur after exposure to an allergen:
- Tightness in the lungs or trouble breathing
- Chest pain
- Low blood pressure
- Dizziness, fainting
- Hives or welts
- Swelling of the throat, face, lips, or tongue
- Abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting
Use of an over-the-counter antihistamine will help relieve your allergy symptoms by suppressing the antibodies that attack the allergens, but it will not cure you of your allergies. Two current treatment methods have been proven to cure or drastically reduce your body’s reaction to allergens: subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT) and sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT), which are injections or allergy drops that slowly acclimate the body to an allergen, reducing your immune response and effectively leaving you with few or no symptoms.
The process can take as long as three to five years, but you may find relief from your symptoms before the end of the treatment course, as your body becomes more habituated to these allergens.