1. What does the word "allergy"
The word allergy is defined in medical dictionaries as "a
hypersensitive state". Allergy is derived from the Greek
allos, meaning other, and ergon which means work. If a person
has an allergic reaction to something, what they are really
experiencing is an altered, or exaggerated reaction. Thus,
the allergy patient lives in an altered state of hypersensitivity.
The word allergy is not prejudiced with regard to its causes.
So, allergy type reactions can be induced by either immune
mechanisms (too much allergy antibody IgE) or by a direct
hypersensitivity to an irritating fume, vapor or medication
(as occurs with codeine and strong perfumes).
2. What causes allergy?
Allergic reactions are caused by the interaction of a persons
immune system with the outside world. Foreign proteins especially
small proteins from pollens, molds and dust mites can cause
an immune reaction in an individual. If the immune reaction
induced by these foreign proteins, otherwise referred to as
allergens, involves IgE antibodies, then the possibility exists
for an allergic reaction to occur. Any substance which is
able to induce a person to make an allergy antibody type of
immune reaction is referred to as an allergen.
3. What are the most common allergens?
The most common causes of allergy and asthma symptoms are
allergens derived from pollens, molds, house dust mites, animal
danders and insects. Many people also experience symptoms
of allergy due to altered reactions to foods and medications.
4. How are allergies diagnosed?
The diagnosis of an allergy disease is made on the basis
of a detailed medical history and physical examination usually
by a certified allergy/immunology specialist. Most often,
this will also involve a number of allergy skin tests which
are used to detect the real causes of the allergic reactions
and consequent symptoms.
5. Can allergies be diagnosed by a blood
The diagnosis of an allergic disease cannot be made by a
blood test alone. Serum testing is commonly done as a screening
test to determined increased risks of developing allergy-like
symptoms. The blood tests for allergy, however, do not tell
your doctor with certainty whether or not the allergens being
tested for are causing your symptoms.
6. What are the most common allergic diseases?
The most common diseases caused by allergy mechanisms are
those of hay fever (allergic rhinitis), asthma, eczema (allergic
dermatitis), contact dermatitis, food allergy and urticaria
Allergy really has different names depending upon where in
your body the reaction is occurring. If an allergic reaction
occurs in your nose, eyes and sinuses physicians will call
it allergic rhinitis. If the allergic explosion is occurring
in the lungs, we call it asthma. All of these allergic diseases
are inflammatory in nature. That is to say, there is inflammation
characteristic of allergy immune mechanisms occurring in those
parts of your body when we give the condition the above scientific
7. How are allergies treated?
Allergy treatments involve 3 fundamental principles. First,
avoidance of the known irritant or allergen responsible for
inducing the state of hypersensitivity. Second, when avoidance
of a specific allergen source such as house dust or certain
pollens is impossible, then drug therapy is used. Finally,
when avoidance and drug therapy fail to adequately control
the inflammation involved in a persons allergic disease,
specific allergen immunotherapy (otherwise known as allergy
injections) are used to help prevent the progression of the
It is important to point out that allergen immunotherapy is
the only treatment available today that can actually change
a patients immune system back toward normal.
Also, it is most important to remember that all allergic diseases,
such as hay fever and asthma, are chronic long-standing diseases
which require long-term management to better control and prevent
the inflammatory mechanisms.
8. What is a sensitizer? How does it work
A sensitizer, or allergen, is usually a smaller protein or
at times a carbohydrate (sugar substance) which is capable
at very small concentrations of inducing excessive immune
responses in a genetically predisposed individual. Allergy
is in this way a heritable trait. Not everyone has the genetic
predisposition toward the development of allergy antibody
immune responses to sensitizing agents, or allergens.
Aeroallergens are allergens present within the air. The aeroallergen
contacts the human immune system by entering through the mucus
membranes of the eyes, nose, throat and lung. When this aeroallergen
interacts with the allergic arm of the immune system, there
is set into motion a cascade of biochemical reactions resulting
in immediate symptoms. When we say immediate we mean within
15-20 minutes there will be sneezing, wheezing, itchy, etc.
Some sensitizing agents can directly cause release of histamine
from allergy cells even without allergy antibodies. These
substances are referred to as irritants or nonspecific reacting
9. How many people have allergies?
The most common cause of allergy on planet earth is the house
dust mite. The house dust mite produces allergenic proteins
primarily in its droppings, or fecal pellets. The incidence
of allergic diseases overall in the United States population
ranges from between 23-30% of individuals. This tendency to
become allergic to allergens is predetermined by the individual
genetic makeup of a person. About 15 million Americans currently
experience asthma symptoms.
10. Is there a time of year when allergies
are more of a problem?
The allergy season really never ends. Springtime is the tree
pollen season. Summertime is the grass and weed pollen season.
In the fall, people can experience both a ragweed and mold
allergy season, and finally in the wintertime, people who
suffer from allergies will go into the "indoor allergy
season". The most common indoor aeroallergens which can
produce hay fever, sinus and asthma symptoms are those of
the house dust mite, cockroach droppings, indoor mold spores
and pet animals.
11. Can a person outgrow an allergy?
Most people grow into allergy, not out of it. One can, however,
lose a sensitivity to certain foods if one totally avoids
the offending food allergen. This occurs in most children
who have the unfortunate experience of having hives due to
cows milk. Later in life that same person who had hives
early in infancy can tolerate milk and other cow proteins.
Unfortunately, one cannot totally avoid exposure to certain
pollens, molds and dust and thus, year after year having been
repeatedly exposed to these airborne proteins allergic individuals
continue to have allergic diseases due to their continuous
or repeated exposure to these aeroallergens.
12. Can allergies develop later in life?
Allergy does not discriminate on the basis of age. Allergic
reactions can develop at any time in life whether it be age
one day, one year, 20 years, 40 years or 60 years. The peak
age at which allergy develops, however, is in the late teens.
For reasons yet unexplained, the immune system of a 19 year
old is most able to produce IgE allergy antibody responses.
13. Are there any long-term effects from
Allergic reactions which occur in the sinuses or the lungs
repeatedly year after year may actually result in a change
in the anatomy of the body part being affected. For example,
if asthma symptoms are allowed to occur without adequate control,
then the inflammation involved in the disease will cause the
lungs to misbehave forever regardless of continued therapy.
In the past it was believed that asthma did not result in
emphysema. However, recent research has indicated that a patient
suffering from asthma which is out of control may develop
a form of emphysema, or fixed airways disease, which is not
Asthma by its very definition, means a reversible airway obstruction
which is accompanied by allergic inflamation in 90% of the
14. What allergies cause fatal reactions?
The most common causes of fatal allergic reactions include
severe reactions to foods such as shellfish, peanuts and cod,
or to stinging insects such as yellow jackets and imported
15. Should people wear ID bracelets for
their allergic conditions?
Patients with life-threatening allergic reactions to antibiotics
or bee sting reactions should definitely wear ID bracelets
and should carry with them an emergency kit containing epinephrine.
Contact your physician for a prescription for an Epi Pen.
If you have had a severe allergic reaction in the past, you
should have available in your home at all times an adrenaline
kit for self-administration should it become necessary.
16. What is the best treatment for allergic
The most important thing in treating any human disease is
receiving an exact and accurate diagnosis of the problem.
For most all patients suffering from allergic diseases such
as hay fever, sinus headaches, asthma and food allergy this
means a visit to a Board Certified specialist in allergy and
Educated victims of allergy and asthma do much better in life
than those patients who are under-diagnosed and under-treated.
When patients die from asthma attacks, its primarily
because of under-treatment by the patient and/or under-diagnosis
on the part of their physician.
17. Are there particular food allergens
to be aware of?
The most frequent foods responsible for causing allergic
reactions are nuts, peanuts, milk, egg, wheat and soybean
proteins. Unfortunately there are food preservatives which
may also induce allergy symptoms. These preservatives include
metabisulfite and monosodium glutamate. Metabisulfites are
present in most wines which need preserving.
The diagnosis of food allergy can be difficult. Consult with
your closest Board Certified Allergy & Asthma Specialist
to obtain an exact diagnosis of possible food related disorders.