Suffering from allergic reactions is a common phenomenon in today’s world. More than 50 million Americans are affected by allergic diseases according to a report by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). If you think it is a sad statistic, don’t lose heart. Doctors and scientists are working to better understand allergies, to improve treatment methods, and to possibly prevent allergies altogether. Allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic disease in the United States, costing the health care system $18 billion annually.
Allergies refer to abnormal immune system reactions that are not harmful for most people. The word allergy is derived from the Greek words allos meaning “other” and ergon meaning “work”. Being allergic to something means that the immune system erroneously behaves in a manner showing that this particular substance is harmful. The substances that cause allergy are called Allergens. Typically, people suffering from any kind of allergy are hypersensitive to these allergens. Common allergens that cause allergic reactions include certain foods, insect bites and stings, airborne particles, medicines, chemicals, dust, and plant pollen.
A Viennese pediatrician, Clemens von Pirquet , coined the term and concept of "allergy" in 1906. He was the first to observe that the symptoms of some of his patients might have been a response to outside allergens such as dust, pollen, or certain foods. For a long time all hypersensitivities were thought to stem from the improper action of inflammatory immunoglobulin class IgE, however, it soon became clear that several different mechanisms utilizing different effector molecules were responsible for the myriad of disorders previously classified as "allergies".
Allergy has now come to mean Type I Hypersensitivity, characterized by classical IgE medication of effects. Type I hypersensitivity is characterized by excessive activation of mast cells and basophils by immunoglobulin E resulting in a systemic inflammatory response that can result in symptoms as harmless as a running nose, to life-threatening anaphylactic shock and even death.
When the immune system recognizes an allergen, it produces IgE antibodies to counter it. The antibodies cause certain cells in the body to release chemicals into the bloodstream, one of which is histamine. Histamine acts on a person's eyes, nose, throat, lungs, skin, or gastrointestinal tract and causes the symptoms of the allergic reaction. Future exposure to that same allergen will trigger the same antibody response again. This leads to the common bane of an allergic reaction occurring when a person comes into contact with an allergen.
The most complete way to avoid allergic reactions is to stay away from the substances that cause them. Doctors can also treat some allergies using medications. People suffering allergies must be careful and follow directions carefully as advised by a doctor. In case of a severe allergy, consider wearing a medical emergency ID (such as a MedicAlert bracelet), which will explain your allergy and who to contact in case of an emergency.