Are You An Allergy Sufferer?

 

Allergies, the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the United States, can’t be cured but can be effectively managed.

 

Allergies occur when the body’s immune system reacts to foreign substances, known as allergens. The source of an allergy could be something eaten, inhaled into the lungs, injected into the body or simply touched. An allergic reaction may cause sneezing, itchy eyes, a runny nose, coughing or a scratchy throat. Severe reactions may result in hives, rashes, breathing trouble, asthma attacks and even death.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, over the course of a year, more than 50 million Americans experience allergies. In 2015, 8.2% of adults were diagnosed with hay fever. And each year, people make about 200,000 visits to the emergency department because of food allergies. The annual costs of allergies exceed $18 billion. Sufferers may experience eye allergies, skin allergies, nasal allergies, food allergies, drug allergies, latex allergies or insect allergies. Among food allergies, the most common allergen is peanuts, followed by milk and shellfish. Penicillin is the most common among drug allergens. Nearly 17% of the U.S. population has latex allergies, while insect sting allergies affect about 5% of the population.

Symptoms that might indicate an allergic reaction depend on the substance involved. For example, the allergen may affect the airways, sinuses, nasal passages, skin and digestive system. Severity can vary from person to person as well, ranging from a mild reaction to severe. In some severe cases, allergies can trigger a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.

If you suspect that you may be suffering from an allergic reaction of some kind, consult your provider so that an accurate diagnosis can be made. Your provider will likely perform a physical examination and ask questions about your symptoms. He or she may ask you to keep a diary detailing the onset of symptoms and possible triggers. If a food allergy is suspected, your provider may ask you to keep a diary listing the foods you eat. Skin tests or blood tests may be necessary to confirm a diagnosis.

It’s important to identify and avoid your allergy triggers to prevent allergic reactions and reduce the incidence of symptoms. Depending on your allergy, medications may help to reduce your immune system reaction and lessen your symptoms. Your provider may recommend an over-the-counter medication or a prescription drug in some form. For severe allergies or those not ameliorated by other treatments, your provider may suggest allergen immunotherapy, involving a series of injections of purified allergen extracts, sometimes over a period of several years. People with severe allergies may need to always carry an emergency epinephrine shot. Used for severe allergic reactions, epinephrine can reduce symptoms until you can access emergency treatment.

Author
Ithaca Primary Care

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