Types of Allergies, Causes and Triggers
An allergy is a pervasive disorder of the immune system that affects over 50 million Americans. It's an inflammatory response to an offending substance (allergen), usually either eaten or inhaled. Common allergens include airborne pollutants, pollens, mold spores, dust, chemicals, animal dander and foods.
Some individuals are more sensitive to seasonal allergies that tend to creep up during the warmer months. Others are troubled by allergies all year long; these more chronic allergies are often caused by environmental factors that are present all the time, such as animal dander, dust and foods.
There are five basic types of allergic or hypersensitivity reactions:
Type 1: Immediate (a.k.a. atopic, or anaphylactic)
Type 2: Antibody-dependent (cytotoxic)
Type 3: Immune complex
Type 4: Cell-mediated (or delayed)
Type 5: Stimulatory
This article focuses on Type I hypersensitivity reaction, which takes place immediately when the body is re-exposed to an allergen through inhalation, injection or ingestion. The body then releases the chemical histamine (among other things). This causes an inflammatory response, leading to a reaction within seconds or minutes.
Type 1 allergic reactions can be mild to life threatening. Common Type 1 allergic symptoms include:
- Sneezing, coughing, runny nose and itchy eyes
- Rashes such as eczema, hives or contact dermatitis
- Headaches, fatigue, ear blockages or frequent sore throat
The more severe and anaphylactic reactions include wheezing, shortness of breath, swelling, tightening of the throat (bronchoconstriction), coma, and even death.
Identifying Your Allergens
Your doctor or an allergy specialist can help you identify the cause of your allergies. Several tests may also be performed to identify the offending allergens. The “scratch” or “skin prick” testing method involves injecting allergens either beneath the skin or into small scratches made on the skin. Your body's reaction may range from mild irritation to full-blown hives. Radioallergosorbent, or RAST, blood testing may also be performed. This type of test measures levels of antibodies (IgE and IgG) produced by the body's immune system. With the RAST test, the blood is testing within a laboratory setting and no actual antigens are introduced into the body.
One way to get a better idea of whether or not a food may be causing your allergic symptoms is to keep a journal of your food intake along with any symptoms that you are experiencing. Doing this for at least one week can give you and your doctor or nutritionist a better idea of where to begin your treatment.
Prevention begins by getting rid of or avoiding exposure to your known allergens, which can provide natural allergy relief.
If your allergies are triggered by dust and dander:
- Eliminate carpet from your home and switch to hard-surface floors.
- Choose dust-proof mattress and pillow covers; bedding harbors dustmites and dustmite waste, a common culprit in allergy symptoms.
- Wash all fabrics and beddings in hot water with hypoallergenic laundry detergent.
- Try to eliminate damp areas in your home that can promote the growth of mold. A dehumidifier may be useful.
If it’s not possible to totally avoid an allergen, you can at least try to limit your exposure to it. For example, stay indoors when the pollen count is high, and use an air conditioner.
If you're prone to food allergies, keep meals simple. Overloading an already challenged respiratory system may be what puts you over the edge.
Simplify your meals: Don’t eat too many different food families at one sitting, or it may be difficult to determine what is worsening your symptoms.
- If you know you are allergic to the ragweed family, try avoiding chamomile, cantaloupe, banana and watermelon.
- Those allergic to tree pollens may want to avoid apples, cherries and peaches.
- For some people, honey can be a problem if they are sensitive to the pollen in the honey.
- Red wine may cause a problem because of the sulfites and the histamine content.
Alternatives to Synthetic Allergy Drugs
Antihistamine and decongestant medicines are meant to block the histamine reaction causing the allergic symptoms. In more severe cases, steroid inhalant sprays may be recommended.
But you may not have to face a lifetime of taking pharmaceuticals. Many allergy sufferers find effective natural allergy relief in herbal or alternative supplements.
- Quercetin and vitamin C can act as natural antihistamines.
- Parsley can also inhibit the secretion of histamine.
- Ginkgo biloba contains chemicals that may block platelet activating factor (PAF), which plays a role in triggering allergies.
- To decrease the inflammation often associated with allergy symptoms, anti-inflammatory herbs like ginger, turmeric and Boswellia may be considered.
Consult your doctor before using any health treatment — including herbal supplements and natural remedies — and tell your doctor if you have a serious medical condition or are taking any medications. The information presented here is for educational purposes only and is in no way intended as substitute for medical counseling.