Did you know that allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the United States? In fact, more than 50 million Americans experience various types of allergies each year. Still, there’s confusion about exactly what allergies are and how they differ from intolerance and sensitivity. Let’s look at some facts about allergies and answer some common questions.
An allergy is an immune system reaction to a foreign substance. This substance, called an allergen, could be something you ate, or it could be something you inhaled, injected, or simply touched. When your body comes in contact with an allergen, the result is an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions vary from mild to extreme. Mild responses include coughing, sneezing, itchy eyes, a runny nose, and a scratchy throat. More severe reactions include rashes, hives, low blood pressure, breathing trouble, or asthma attacks. In the most severe cases, allergies can even be fatal.
Allergies are treatable, but there’s no cure. Managing allergies is accomplished with prevention and treatment. While often overlooked as a disease, it is one of the most common diseases in the United States. In fact, allergic conditions are the most common health issues affecting children in the U.S., and food allergies cause about 200,000 visits to the emergency room each year.
- How deadly are allergies? Anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction, is most often triggered by medicine, food, and insect stings. Of these allergens, medicines cause the most deaths. The groups that have the deadliest reactions to allergens are elderly people and African-Americans.
- What are indoor/outdoor allergies? Indoor and outdoor allergies cause sinus swelling, seasonal allergies, hay fever, nasal allergies, and asthma. Allergens include tree, grass, and weed pollen, dust mites, mold spores, cockroaches, rodent dander, and pet dander. The triggers for indoor/outdoor allergies can also trigger eye allergies, and most people with allergies suffer from more than one type of allergy. Allergic rhinitis, also called hay fever, is an example of an indoor/outdoor allergy, and it affects 2 percent of adults and 8.4 percent of children.
- What causes skin allergies? The most common triggers for skin allergies are plants like poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. Coming into contact with cockroaches or dust mites, certain foods, or latex can also cause symptoms of skin allergies. Skin allergy symptoms include skin inflammation, eczema, hives, and contact allergies. Nearly 9 million children in the U.S. have skin allergies, with kids between 0 and 4 being the most likely to experience them.
- Are drug allergies common? Reactions to drugs may affect 10 percent of the world’s population, and up to 20 percent of hospital patients. The most common trigger for those with drug allergies is penicillin.
- How serious is a latex allergy? For most people with a latex allergy, exposure to latex causes mild to severe dermatitis, some time after exposure. The most serious response to latex shows up immediately, and presents as a nasal allergy, conjunctivitis, cramps, hives, and severe itching. Symptoms can also include rapid heartbeat, tremors, chest pain, difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, or anaphylaxis. There’s a growing concern among medical professionals about latex allergies because risk of allergy increases with repeated exposure, and 8-12 percent of health care workers develop a latex allergy.
- How common are insect allergies? About 5 percent of the population is allergic to insect stings, which cause 90-100 deaths each year.
- What are the most common food allergies? Believe it or not, most food allergies are caused by just eight foods. These allergens are milk, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. Children are more likely than adults to have food allergies.
- What’s the difference between a food allergy, a sensitivity, and an intolerance? A true food allergy can cause a serious, even life-threatening reaction. Sensitivity to a certain food can cause an immune response, typically not as serious as an allergy, but disruptive in its own right. Symptoms include joint pain, stomach pain, fatigue, rashes, and brain fog. Gluten is a common trigger of food sensitivity. Food intolerance is the inability to digest certain foods, like dairy products, and typically cause diarrhea or bloating.
- How are allergies best managed? Avoiding triggers is the first step toward managing allergies. There are also medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, that your allergist can recommend. For about 85 percent of people with allergic rhinitis, immunotherapy, in the form of allergy shots, drops or tablets, is helpful in reducing or nearly eliminating symptoms. The best strategy is to see an allergist to devise a treatment plan.
If you’re struggling with allergy symptoms and would like to feel better, contact Allergy & Asthma Specialists . In one visit, the board certified allergist will help you identify your triggers and develop a treatment plan that is best for you. When you enlist the help of an experienced, board-certified allergist, you can be confident that your doctor will help you find the solutions you need to manage your allergies. At Allergy & Asthma Specialists SM, all physicians are board-certified in allergy and immunology. Call 610-825-5800 or visit the website for an appointment, or to learn more about services available to help you with your allergies.