Around 20% of people in America experience allergies. There are many different factors that cause allergies in people and these allergies may be triggered by almost any substance in their immediate environment. Yet what is an allergy? An allergy is basically any abnormal reaction of a person's immune system to a particular substance referred to as an, 'allergen.' The reaction happens when the allergy trigger a person has is present in the person's surroundings.
The allergic episodes can be mild and only manifest as skin redness, hives, or itching - yet at times an allergic reaction may be deadly. Considering that one-fifth of the population in America alone experiences one form of allergy or another, an idea of the most common allergens that trigger allergic reactions in America is relevant. What follows are descriptions of these common allergens.
- Cockroaches: Cockroaches are a kind of insect that no one likes. More than that, the proteins their feces contain may irritate the skin and cause an allergic reaction.
- Perfume: Some people are unable to bear the smell of perfume, no matter how high-quality it smells. The chemicals in the perfume irritate the lining of their noses and trigger allergies.
- Animal Hair: Dogs and cats secrete oil to coat their hair, oil containing protein that can cause allergic reactions. Animal dander allergy may develop over time and can end the relationship between a person and their pet.
- Medication: Some people have immune systems that are not friendly with substances found in some medications such as salicylates and penicillin. When they ingest medication containing these allergens they may break out.
- Mold: Mold develops on dark and damp areas. When mold spores are inhaled or touched, they irritate a person's air tract and cause allergic reactions. Molds act almost the same way as pollens do, except they persist - even in freezing temperatures.
- Dust Mites: Dust mites live in the dust that collects in workplaces and people's homes. They cannot be seen with the unaided eye and they feed on fungi, bacteria and dead skin cells in dust balls. The proteins their waste contains may cause allergic reactions.
- Latex: Latex is made from the sap of the rubber tree and the sap contains proteins that may be an allergy trigger for some people. When those who are allergic come in contact with latex they immediately show an allergic reaction. Many items used in health care are made of latex.
- Insect Bites: An insect bites or stings as a part of its defensive mechanism. When an insect bites; however, it leaves proteins in a person's skin that are also allergy triggers for some people. The allergy may manifest as itchiness and mild swelling, but it can also be life-threatening for some people.
- Food: Some people are predisposed to developing allergies to food such as peanuts, wheat, shellfish and milk. Those who are allergic to these items produce antibodies against the substances found in the food they are allergic to. When they eat a food they are allergic to, their antibodies release, 'histamine,' triggering allergic reactions.
- Pollens: Pollens are the number one allergy trigger in America. Pollens are produced by vegetation trees, flowering plants and grass and are spread through the air. When a person inhales these allergens, they cause a reaction in those who are allergic to them. The majority of plant life on Earth releases pollens into the air from Spring through Autumn, yet there are also some plants that produce pollen in the winter.
Food Allergy Symptoms
Some of the symptoms of food allergies are actually similar to food poisoning while others might be confused with pollen allergies or asthma. It is important to work with your doctor to find out what is causing your symptoms. It may take time and some detective work to figure out if your symptoms are being caused by food, or if there is another underlying cause.
Symptoms of a classic food allergy usually start within 2 hours of eating a trigger food. Symptoms of food sensitivities, such as lactose intolerance, or an auto-immune disorder such as celiac disease may be delayed for up to 12 hours. Food allergies might cause symptoms in a person's skin, airways, stomach, eyes, or their entire body. Some of the signs of food allergy include the following.
- Eyes: Allergic reactions of a person's eyes are called, 'allergic conjunctivitis.' The symptoms a person may experience include itching, redness, swelling and watering of the eyes. A doctor may suggest treatment with an oral antihistamine.
- Stomach or Digestive Tract Symptoms: Food allergies may cause stomach or intestinal symptoms such as nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea or vomiting. A chronic stomachache might be a sign that a person has a food allergy, or it may be a sign that the person is lactose intolerant. The person may have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), celiac disease, or something else entirely. Antihistamines do not help with these symptoms.
- Skin Reactions: Food allergies may cause skin rashes such as hives or raised red welts that move around a person's body. Eczema, a scaly and itchy rash that may peel or blister, is another skin reaction people may experience due to food allergy. A doctor might suggest treating skin reactions with an oral antihistamine or topical agent such as calamine lotion, steroid creams, or oatmeal baths. The presence of many hives all over a person's body, or swelling all of their body, are serious and require emergency medical attention.
- Airway: Food allergies can affect a person's throat, lungs and their ability to breathe. If you experience asthma and food allergies you are at increased risk of a severe allergic reaction that involves difficulties with breathing. The symptoms can include coughing, wheezing, angioedema and allergic rhinitis. A doctor might suggest that mild swelling or a rash on the lips or tongue of a person be treated with an oral antihistamine. Swelling of a person's airways to the point where they have trouble breathing, a short and barking cough, or difficulties with swallowing are signs of anaphylaxis and require prompt medical treatment.
- Anaphylaxis: Anaphylaxis is a type of shock or loss of blood pressure caused by an allergic reaction. It often times starts within 2 hours of eating an allergen. Anaphylaxis might involve any of the symptoms listed or a combination of them, as well as:
- Pale skin
- Difficulty breathing
- Loss of consciousness
- Sense of impending doom
- Dizziness or light-headedness
Anaphylaxis is indeed a life-threatening emergency. It can progress quickly and may cause death within 30 minutes of the start of the person's symptoms and requires administration of emergency epinephrine. If you think you may be experiencing anaphylaxis do not wait to find out if your symptoms improve.
Symptoms of Food Allergy in Children
Children may describe the symptoms they experience different than an adult would. A child might say something such as, 'This is too spicy,' or, 'My tongue feels really thick,' when they eat a trigger food. Children can become very fussy or irritable and find themselves unable to explain the symptoms they are experiencing.
If a child's mouth, face, or tongue is swelling, or if they experience difficulties with breathing, do not hesitate - call 911 at once. If you are concerned that a child might have food allergies or be at risk for food allergies, communicate with a pediatrician about visiting a board-certified allergist. Symptoms of food allergies may also be different in babies.