Allergies are the immune system’s specific reaction to a normally harmless substance such as pollens, certain foods, or medicines. There are two main types of allergies, seasonal and perennial. The seasonal variety occurs at specific times of the year, while the perennial variety can happen year-round. In many cases, successful treatment involves medication, reducing contact with specific allergens, or shots.

Allergies are pretty common. Both genes and environment play a role.

The immune system normally protects the body against harmful substances, such as bacteria and viruses. It also reacts to foreign substances called allergens, which are generally harmless and in most people do not cause a problem.

But in a person with allergies, the immune response is oversensitive. When it recognizes an allergen, the immune system launches a response. Chemicals such as histamines are released.

Some people have allergy-like reactions to hot or cold temperatures, sunlight, or other environmental triggers. Sometimes, friction (rubbing or roughly stroking the skin) will cause symptoms of allergies.

Allergies is not usually passed down through families (inherited). However, if both your parents have allergies, you are also likely to have allergies. The chance is greater if your mother has allergies.


The part of the body the allergen touches affects what symptoms you develop. For example:

  • allergens that you breathe in often cause a stuffy nose, itchy nose and throat, mucus production, cough, and wheezing
  • Allergens that touch the eyes may cause itchy, watery, red, swollen eyes.
  • Eating something you are allergic to can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea, or a severe, life-threatening reaction.
  • Allergens that touch the skin can cause a skin rash, hives, itching, blisters or skin peeling.
  • Drug allergies usually involve the whole body and can lead to a variety of symptoms.

What causes allergies?

The immune system is the body’s organized defense mechanism against foreign invaders, particularly infections. Its job is to recognize and react to these foreign substances, which are called antigens. Antigens are substances that are capable of causing the production of antibodies. Antigens may or may not lead to an allergic reaction. Allergens are certain antigens that cause an allergic reaction and the production of IgE.

The aim of the immune system is to mobilize its forces at the site of invasion and destroy the enemy. One of the ways it does this is to create protective proteins called antibodies that are specifically targeted against particular foreign substances. These antibodies, or immunoglobulins (IgG, IgM, IgA, IgD), are protective and help destroy a foreign particle by attaching to its surface, thereby making it easier for other immune cells to destroy it. The allergic person however, develops a specific type of antibody called immunoglobulin E, or IgE, in response to certain normally harmless foreign substances, such as cat dander. To summarize, immunoglobulins are a group of protein molecules that act as antibodies. There are five different types; IgA, IgM, IgG, IgD, and IgE. IgE is the allergy antibody.

Types of Allergies 

There are several different types of allergies that are very common. Allergies can trigger reactions in many different ways.

Here is a brief description of some of the more common allergies:

Allergy Rhinitis (Seasonal Hay Fever)

A common illness that affects millions of people and is caused by inhaling pollens, ragweed, trees, and grasses.  Hay fever is generally a seasonal condition, often times worse in the spring and fall seasons.

Dust Mite Allergy

A dust mite allergy is an allergic reaction to a microscopic organism that lives in the dust that is found in most buildings and houses. Dust mites are a common cause of perennial allergic rhinitis. Dust mite allergy usually produces symptoms similar to pollen allergy and also can produce symptoms of asthma.

Mold Allergy

Mold allergies are most common during summer months. A mold allergy is simply an allergic reaction to common household molds. The Toxic Black Mold Information Center includes tips for findingcleaning, and preventing indoor mold problems


Inflammation of the lungs and airways possibly due to inhaled allergens or sensitivity to odors or chemicals. The allergic reactions can trigger asthma symptoms.  The effects of asthma are generally temporary and include: shortness of breath, breathing troubles, or other allergy symptoms.

Allergic Eczema

Allergic Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis) is an allergic rash that is usually not caused by skin contact with an allergen. This condition is commonly associated with allergic rhinitis or asthma and features the following symptoms:

  • Itching, redness, and or dryness of the skin.
  • Rash on the face, especially children.
  • Rash around the eyes, in the elbow creases, and behind the knees, especially in adults.


Severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) need to be treated with a medicine called epinephrine, which can be lifesaving when given right away. If you use epinephrine, call 911 and go straight to the hospital.

The best way to reduce symptoms is to avoid what causes your allergies. This is especially important for food and drug allergies.

There are several types of medications to prevent and treat allergies. Which medicine your doctor recommends depends on the type and severity of your symptoms, your age, and overall health.

Illnesses that are caused by allergies (such as asthma, hay fever, and eczema) may need other treatments.

Medications that can be used to treat allergies include:


Antihistamines are available over-the-counter and by prescription. They are available in many forms, including:

  • Capsules and pills
  • Eye drops
  • Injection
  • Liquid
  • Nasal spray


Anti-inflammatory medications (corticosteroids) are available in many forms, including:

  • Creams and ointment for the skin
  • Eye drops
  • Nasal spray
  • Lung inhaler

Patients with severe allergic symptoms may be prescribed corticosteroid pills or injections for short periods of time.


Decongestants can help relieve a stuffy nose. Do not use decongestant nasal spray for more than several days, because they can cause a “rebound” effect and make the congestion worse. Decongestants in pill form do not cause this problem. People with high blood pressure, heart problems, or prostate enlargement should use decongestants with caution.


Leukotriene inhibitors are medicines that block the substances that trigger allergies. Zafirlukast (Accolate) and montelukast(Singulair) are approved for people with asthma and indoor and outdoor allergies.


Allergy shots (immunotherapy) are sometimes recommended if you cannot avoid the allergen and your symptoms are hard to control. Allergy shots keep your body from over-reacting to the allergen. You will get regular injections of the allergen. Each dose is slightly larger than the last dose until a maximum dose is reached. These shots do not work for everybody and you will have to visit the doctor often.

Preventing Allergies

There are many strategies and measures you can take to prevent allergies, and avoidance and cleanliness are the two most common approaches. For example, if you are allergic to certain foods, those foods can be avoided altogether. However, with more challenging types of allergies (such as allergies to pollen, molds, and dust mites), complete avoidance may be difficult.

 Overview of Allergy Prevention

Preventing allergies depends on the type of allergy a person has. For example, certain food allergies can be prevented by not eating the food. However, allergies from pollen can be more challenging to deal with, because complete avoidance of pollen can be difficult.

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