Allergies, or allergic diseases, refer to the immune system’s hypersensitivity to something in one’s environment. Some allergies include hay fever, food allergies, dermatitis, allergic asthma and anaphylaxis. Allergy symptoms include red itchy eyes, swelling, rash, runny or stuffy nose, shortness of breath and itchy/plugged ears. Common allergens are pollens, grasses, foods, metals, insect bites or stings, medications and more.
Allergies can be genetic or environmental. Early exposure to potential allergens may be able to boost the body’s immune system so that allergies do not develop. Genetic allergies are not necessarily preventable and can be difficult to treat. For example, the development of eczema, an allergic skin disease, is related to specific chromosome mutations and is therefore genetic. For severe allergies, there is almost always a familial association.
Allergy testing is performed by pricking the skin on the patient’s arms, legs or back with a needle and introducing allergens and/or their extracts. Each prick is labeled, and if hives or rash are present, the allergy is confirmed. Allergens typically included in the skin test are grasses, pollens, foods and animal extracts.
There are several treatment options for people with allergies. The first is over-the-counter medications. These are the most popular option; however, medications treat the symptoms of allergies rather than the underlying cause. Another more effective treatment option is allergen immunotherapy via shots or drops. The idea behind immunotherapy is that by continually introducing an allergen to the patient’s body, they will eventually develop an immunity, curing their allergies.