We get a lot of questions on this site about what people assume are allergic reactions to something. But the truth is, some of the symptoms described don't sound at all like allergic reactions. It seems there is a lot of confusion about what an allergic reaction truly is, so today's post will help shed some light on this issue.
What Is an Allergic Reaction?
An allergic reaction is a series of events in your body that occurs in response to an "invasion" by a foreign substance wrongly interpreted as a threat to your health. It is your body's attempt to protect itself.
This reaction begins in your immune system, which is designed to protect you from truly harmful substances such as bacteria, viruses and toxins. But in the case of allergies, the immune system overreacts. This is called being hypersensitive. An antibody called IgE is a big factor in the immune response associated with allergy. In fact, a blood test can measure the level of IgE in your body and tell a doctor that you probably have allergies.
What Triggers an Allergic Reaction?
Almost anything can act as an allergen or allergic reaction trigger, but certain substances are more likely to have this effect. Foods, pollen, dust, furry or feathered animals, and molds are some of the most common allergens. Latex, chemical fumes, stinging insects and medication can also trigger allergic reactions.
Who Is Susceptible to Allergic Reactions?
Anyone can have a reaction, but certain people are more likely than others to have them. For instance:
- You've had an allergic reaction in the past
- You have a parent or sibling who are allergic
- You have asthma
- You have sinusitis
Allergic reactions can vary greatly from person to person, as can the things they are allergic to.
How Do I Know If I'm Having an Allergic Reaction?
The specific symptoms associated with an allergic reaction depends on where the reaction is occurring in your body and can also vary in intensity. But let's look at some of the more common symptoms.
By far, the most common type of allergic reaction, nasal allergies cause symptoms such as:
- Runny nose
- Nasal congestion
- Itchy mouth, nose, throat
- Itchy, teary, burning eyes
- Mucus discharge of the eyes
- Eyes and the surrounding tissues are irritated, red, & swollen
- Dry, itchy skin
- Tingling & swellling of the mouth, nose, throat
- Hives, rash
- Wheezing or trouble breathing
- Nasal congestion
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
- Dizziness or fainting
In most cases, all of the types of allergic reactions described above may be bothersome, but you can live with them. Occasionally, though, an allergic reaction becomes so severe, it can be life-threatening. This is called anaphylaxis and you can read more about it here.
It's important to understand that many of the symptoms listed above could also be caused by other conditions. In fact, many skin conditions are often thought to be allergies at first, but in fact are not.