Aah-Choo! What are Allergies?


Allergies are abnormal immune system reactions to things that are typically harmless to most people. When a person is allergic to something, the immune system mistakenly believes that this substance is harming the body.

What is the immune system?

The immune system is the body’s defense against infections. The immune (ih-MYOON) system attacks germs and helps keep us healthy.

What are allergens?

Substances that cause allergic reactions — such as some foods, dust, plant pollen, or medicines — are known as allergens.

Allergies are a major cause of illness in the United States. Up to 50 million Americans, including millions of kids, have some type of allergy. In fact, allergies cause about 2 million missed school days each year.

How do allergies happen?

An allergy happens when the immune system overreacts to an allergen, treating it as an invader and trying to ght it off. This causes symptoms that can range from annoying (like s runny nose and itchy eyes) to serious or even life-threatening.

Some allergies are seasonal and happen only at certain times of the year; others can happen anytime someone comes in contact with an allergen. So, when a person with a food allergy eats that particular food or someone who’s allergic to dust mites is exposed to them, they will have an allergic reaction.

Who gets allergies?

Allergies are often hereditary, which means it can be passed down through genes from parents to their kids. But just because your parent has allergies it doesn’t mean you will get them. Some kids have allergies even if no family member is allergic.

What things cause allergies? Common airborne allergens.

Some of the most common things people are allergic to are airborne (carried through the air):

  • Dust mites are microscopic insects that live all around us and feed on the millions of dead skin cells that fall off our bodies every day. They’re the main allergic component of house dust. Dust mites are present year-round in most parts of the United States and live in bedding, upholstery, and carpets.
  • Pollen is a major cause of allergies (a pollen allergy is often called hay fever) .Trees, weeds, and grasses release these tiny particles into the air to fertilize other plants. Pollen allergies are seasonal, and the type of pollen someone is allergic to determines when symptoms happen. Pollen counts measure how much pollen is in the air and can help people with allergies predict how bad their symptoms might be on any given day. Pollen counts are usually higher in the morning and on warm, dry, breezy days, and lowest when it’s chilly and wet.
  • Molds are fungi that thrive both indoors and outside in warm, moist environments. Outdoors, molds can be found in piles of rotting leaves or compost piles. Indoors, molds thrive in dark, poorly ventilated places such as bathrooms and damp basements.
  • Pet allergens are caused by pet dander (tiny akes of shed skin) and animal saliva. When pets lick themselves, the saliva gets on their fur or feathers. As the saliva dries, protein particles become airborne and work their way into fabrics in the home. Pet urine also can cause allergies in the same way.

Common Food Allergens

Up to 2 million, or 8%, of kids in the United States have food allergies. Eight foods account for most of those: cow’s milk, eggs, fish and shell fish, peanuts and tree nuts, soy, and wheat.

Other Common Allergens

  • Insect allergies. For most kids, being stung by an insect means swelling, redness, and itching at the site of the bite. But for those with insect venom allergy, an insect sting can cause more serious symptoms.
  • Medicines. Antibiotics are the most common type of medicines that cause allergic reactions. Many other others, including over-the-counter medicines (those you can buy without a prescription), also can cause allergic reactions.
  • Chemicals. Some cosmetics or laundry detergents can make people break out in hives. Hives are red raised bumps or welts on the skin.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Allergies?

Allergy symptoms are different for everyone. Allergies may show up as itchy eyes, sneezing, a stuffy nose, throat tightness, trouble breathing, vomiting, and even fainting or passing out.

Kids with severe allergies (such as those to food, medicine, or insect venom) can be at risk for a sudden, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, which can result in dif culty breathing, among other things. So doctors will want anyone diagnosed with a life-threatening allergy to carry an epinephrine auto-injector in case of an emergency. Epinephrine works quickly against serious allergy symptoms.

How Are Allergies Treated?

There’s no cure for allergies, but there are some things that can help. The best way is to avoid the things you are allergic to. That is not always possible.

Your teachers, friends, and parents of your friends should also know about your allergy.

If avoiding things you are allergic to isn’t possible or doesn’t help, your doctor might prescribe medicine to take away some of the symptoms.

In some cases, your doctor might recommend allergy shots. They work by helping your body to stop reacting to an allergen.

(Source: kidshealth.org)