What Causes Allergies? Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment
Do you find yourself sniffling all through the spring? Or maybe avoiding shellfish like your life depends on it (which it does!)? Or perhaps you’re terrified to go hiking and wind up getting an insect sting?
You have allergies – and they are negatively affecting your life.
You’re not alone. It’s estimated that somewhere around 30% of adults suffer from allergies. In fact, they are the 6th highest cause of chronic illness. And in the United States, people are spending about $18 billion annually to fight this pesky problem.
But what exactly are allergies? Are they all the same? Why do we get them and what can be done about it? I’m going to answer all of those questions. By the time we are done, you’ll be an expert on allergies.
Signs and Symptoms of Allergies
Here are the common signs and symptoms of allergies. It’s important to realize that there’s not only one type of allergy.
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First off, the severity of allergy symptoms varies drastically between people. Maybe your seasonal allergies only give you a slightly runny nose. For someone else, they may keep them in bed for weeks. For some, allergies are annoying. For others, they are life threatening.
Next, allergy symptoms are different depending upon the allergen. The symptoms you get when you eat a food you are allergic to will not be the same symptoms you get when you run through a park filled with pollen. So I’ve broken the symptoms down by type to help sort it out.
Signs and symptoms of hay fever (AKA: seasonal allergies or perennial allergies):
- Runny nose
- Congested (stuffy) nose
- Itchy nose
- Watery, puffy, or red eyes
- Scratchy or sore throat
Signs and symptoms of an insect sting:
- Swelling of the phase
Signs and symptoms of allergic asthma:
- Shortness of breath
- Quick breathing
- Tightening in chest
Signs and symptoms of food allergies:
- Swelling of the face and mouth (often includes the tongue and lips)
- Tingling in your mouth
- Anaphylaxis *Learn more about the signs of anaphylaxis below
Signs and symptoms of a drug allergy:
- Swelling of the face and mouth
- Itchy skin
Signs and symptoms of a skin allergy:
- Itchy skin
- Flaking or peeling skin
So how can you tell if you have allergies or another sickness – like a cold or a skin condition – that have similar symptoms? Check out this quick video on clues that show you how to know whether it is allergies or a cold. You may also need to head to your doctor for a better diagnosis.
Signs and Symptoms of Anaphylaxis
Since the signs of an allergy can include the life-threatening anaphylaxis, it is so important to know what that looks like. If you believe you or a loved one may have these signs, call 911 immediately.
- Lowered blood pressure
- Fast, yet weak pulse
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shortness of breath (often severe)
- Skin rash
- Lost consciousness
This is when those with an EpiPen must use the injection. Though immediate medical attention is still necessary.
So What Actually Causes Allergies?
Most people think the allergens themselves – like pollen or cat hair – are to blame for allergy symptoms. But the truth is – it’s actually your body’s fault.
You see, our bodies have this incredible system in place. Our immune systems can actually attack things that harm us with something called antibodies. These antibodies turn on our mast cells, which then burst open and histamine is released into the body.
This whole process is really great when you actually encounter something bad – it is supposed to be used for things like bad bacteria or viruses. It helps fight them off. The downside, of course, is that histamine causes all sorts of uncomfortable symptoms like a stuffy nose or asthma.
But sometimes our antibodies get a bit confused. They see things like dust or dog dander as a terrible foreign invader that must be destroyed. Even though they are entirely harmless to you.
So when you are around that allergen, all your antibodies are sent out and you are left with those miserable symptoms.
Those who suffer from this immune system mix-up often have parents with allergies too, so genes can sometimes be to blame. But sometimes it’s just the way your body is.
Some the most common allergens include:
- Dust, dust mites
- Animal dander
- Insect stings (often from bees, hornets, and wasps)
- Medications (Penicillin is common)
Of course, it is possible to be allergic to just about anything. Just because it’s not on this list doesn’t mean you can’t be allergic to it.
You may have been around these allergens before with no problem. Then all of a sudden your immune system starts registering it as a dangerous problem. So each time you come across that allergen now, your body sends out the antibodies.
Allergy Treatment Options
So what can allergy sufferers do about their symptoms?
Below you will find the four most common allergy treatment options. None of these are a full cure for your symptoms. Some will help you more than others.
Also realize you may have to stay on them long-term. If your child has allergies, their symptoms may end up disappearing or lessening on their own. They may only need these treatments for a short time. However, adults with allergies will most likely have them for the rest of their lives.
There are many different types of medications available to help allergy sufferers. Since the types of allergies vary and the allergens themselves vary, there is not a one-size-fits-all pill. Normally your doctor will provide medications to treat your particular symptoms.
Some of these medications are antihistamines. They block that substance released by your immune system when they try to attack an allergen. Many of these, unfortunately, leave you drowsy. This makes them hard for a workday or school day.
Others are decongestants (to relieve all that sinus pressure), corticosteroids (to combat the inflammation), or mast cell stabilizers (those don’t allow your mast cells to release histamine).
These medications often come in the form of:
- Nasal sprays
- Eye drops
Many of these are over-the-counter (like the popular Zyrtec or Claritin). You don’t need a prescription. But if your allergies are more severe, you may need to get stronger options provided only through a doctor’s prescription.
For anaphylaxis, doctors will give you some sort of emergency epinephrine shot (like the EpiPen) to keep with you at all times in case of emergency.
2. Allergy Shots or Immunotherapy
Getting allergy shots (also called immunotherapy) is a way that medical professionals will try to re-train your body so it doesn’t think your allergens are bad. The idea is that you will be come desensitized (or less sensitized) to allergens over time.
They do this by slowly and consistently introducing a pure form of the allergen to you body through an injection.
When you are getting allergy shots, you normally go in once or twice a week to receive a shot of your allergen. This normally happens for months. Once you have reached a certain point determined by your doctor, you will just go in for occasional maintenance shots.
This is meant to be a long-term solution. It doesn’t fix the allergy attack you have today; it lessens your response for the future.
Unfortunately, this does not help food allergies.
Avoiding your known allergen is key. But sometimes that’s hard to do. If you know you are allergic to cats, you just don’t have a cat and stay away from cat homes. If you have a food allergy, you just don’t eat it.
But things like dust or pollen are everywhere. Ways to avoid these allergens as much as possible include:
- Washing your bedding frequently (also any sort of stuffed toy a child has)
- Washing your hair every time you come home for the evening
- Regularly vacuuming with a quality vacuum or switching out carpet for wood or tile floors
- Putting a dehumidifier in your home to help keep any mold away
- Using a sinus rinse to remove any irritants from your nasal passage
4. Natural Solutions
Fortunately, there are some great allergy solutions outside of allergy medications.
Many people believe that acupuncture has had a great positive impact on their allergies. This traditional allergy treatment is now being backed my multiple randomized controlled trials.
You can also take natural herbs that have been shown to squelch allergy symptoms. Some of the best include:
- Quercetin: This antioxidant has been shown to block allergens
- Boswellia: This Ayurvedic herb has been used to cut inflammation which can improve allergy symptoms
- Nettle extract: This is another herb that can cut inflammation and improve allergic reactions
- Coleus forskihlii: This herb is like an all-natural antihistamine
- Butterbur extract: This is another herb that acts like an antihistamine
The best way to try all these supplements is through Eu Natural’s Breathe Sinus & Lung Respiratory Relief. You can take a capsule twice a day to make sure allergy season doesn’t get the best of you.
Are Allergies Plaguing You?
If you are not sure what is causing your allergies, a trip to the doctor can help you figure it out. They may be able to diagnose you from your symptoms alone. If not, they can run various tests to figure out what your allergens are.
At that point, you can start the proper medicine and natural treatment options to make your symptoms less miserable – even perhaps make them go away.
Hopefully you have a better understanding of why allergies come around and what you can do about them.