What are allergies?
Allergies are the immune system’s response to allergens. Allergens are typically harmless, however, in some people, they can be deemed harmful by the body. The immune system is basically your body’s defence mechanism against invading and foreign substances. In the case of allergies and depending on the type of allergy and the manner in which it is encountered, some people may react with sneezing or wheezing or experience inflammation of the throat, nasal passages or digestive system as well as display a number of other possible symptoms including headaches, swelling, difficulty breathing, nausea and diarrhoea. Inflammation is, however, the primary symptom of allergies.
When the immune system feels as though it is under attack by any substance that is foreign to the body (also known as an antigen), it will create antibodies (immunoglobulins) to fight off the virus, bacteria or fungi that have the potential to cause infection or disease.
Usually, antibodies identify a certain allergen as a harmful invader and bind to it, rendering it inactive so that it can be destroyed and removed from the body. However, in the case of allergies, ‘invaders’ such as pollen, pet dander (dead skin cells present on a dog or cat’s coat) or food elicit an overreaction of the immune system and over production of a chemical histamine in response to substances that should not typically be deemed dangerous to the body when the allergen comes into contact with it. When this happens, histamine causes inflammation and constriction of smooth muscle within the body and an allergic reaction with accompanying symptoms is the result.
In most cases, the immune system will adjust to its environment. If someone comes into contact with a cat, for example, their immune system will note the change of environment and detect that the pet dander present is harmless. However, being allergic to pet dander means that the body reacts inappropriately to the allergen and responds in a way that views the allergen as a pathogen trying to attack or weaken the body.
The range of severity of allergies varies from each person and can range from minor irritation to severe anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis can be a life-threatening condition and should be treated as an emergency where the patient will need immediate medical attention.
The majority of allergies cannot be cured, there are, however, a number of treatments to help relieve the symptoms of allergies.
Allergies are a common occurrence amongst many people and can be categorised into similar groups such as food, drug (medication), seasonal (caused by pollen, grass or mould) or animal allergies (usually caused by pet dander).
Allergies have more to them than meets the eye. The information in the navigation menu above provides an in-depth look into what allergies are, their causes, complications, treatment and more. Should you be seeking a professional diagnosis, then consult with your doctor as this article is for informational purposes only.