Why Does the Body Develop Allergies?
Allergy symptoms appear when the immune system reacts to an allergic substance that has entered the body as though it were an unwelcome invader. The immune system will produce special antibodies capable of recognizing the same allergic substance if it enters the body at a later time.
When an allergen reenters the body, the immune system rapidly recognizes it, causing a series of reactions. These reactions often involve tissue destruction, blood vessel dilation, and the production of many inflammatory substances, including histamine. Histamine produces common allergy symptoms such as itchy, watery eyes, nasal and sinus congestion, headaches, sneezing, scratchy throat, hives, shortness of breath, etc. Other less common symptoms are balance disturbances, skin irritations such as eczema, and even respiratory problems like asthma.
What Are Common Allergens?
Many common substances can be allergens.
- Animal dander
- Drugs such as penicillin
- Environmental pollutants
How Can Allergies Be Managed?
Allergies are rarely life-threatening, but often cause lost work days, decreased work efficiency, poor school performance, and a negative effect on the quality of life. Considering the millions of dollars spent on antiallergy medications and the cost of lost work time, allergies cannot be considered a minor problem.
For some allergy sufferers, symptoms may be seasonal, but for others, they produce year-round discomfort. Symptom control is most successful when multiple approaches are used simultaneously to manage the allergy. They may include minimizing exposure to allergens, desensitization with allergy shots or drops, and medications. If used properly, medications, including antihistamines, nasal decongestant sprays, steroid sprays, saline sprays, and cortisone-type preparations, can be helpful. Even over-the-counter drugs can be beneficial, but some may cause drowsiness.
When Should A Doctor Be Consulted?
The most appropriate person to evaluate allergy problems is an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist). Aside from gathering a detailed history and completing a thorough examination of the ears, nose, throat, and head, ENT doctors will offer advice on proper environmental control. They will also evaluate the sinuses to determine if infection or structural abnormality (deviated septum, polyps) is contributing to the symptoms. The doctor may advise testing to determine the specific allergen that is causing discomfort.