With spring around the corner, the change in seasons could trigger allergies in many of our patients. Read below for the first article in a two-part series for more information on allergies and their causes and symptoms. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Andy Fine if you have allergies and would like more information on how to treat them.
Everything You Need to Know About Triggers, Diagnosis, and Treatment
Allergies occur when your immune system overreacts to substances called allergens. Common allergens that can trigger allergic reactions include pollen, pet dander, and bee venom. People also have allergies to certain foods and medications.
Who Gets Allergies?
Allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the United States. More than 50 million Americans each year suffer from an allergy-related disease or condition, including hay fever, asthma, conjunctivitis or pink eye, hives, eczema or atopic dermatitis, and sinus infection or sinusitis.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 20 million Americans 18 and older and more than 6.1 million children were diagnosed with allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever, in 2015. Another 20 million Americans were diagnosed with respiratory, food, or skin allergies.
Your risk of developing allergies is higher if you:
- Have asthma
- Have a family history of asthma or allergies
- Are younger than 18
Children with food allergies are as much as four times more likely to have other allergic conditions, including asthma. Children sometimes outgrow allergies as they get older. It’s also not uncommon for allergies to go away and then return years later. You may have more than one allergy. Children with food allergies, for instance, are as much as four times more likely to have other allergic conditions, including asthma.
More than 100 genes are associated with allergies, although only one or two genes affect any given population. Some of these genes affect the immune response; others affect lung and airway function.
What Triggers an Allergic Reaction?
The most common allergens that trigger allergic reactions include:
- Dust mites
- Pet dander or fur
- Mold spores
- Foods (eggs, fish, milk, nuts, wheat, soy, shellfish, and others)
- Insect stings or bites (from wasps, bees, mosquitoes, fire ants, fleas, horseflies, black flies, among others)
- Medicines (penicillin, aspirin, and others)
- Household chemicals
- Metals (especially nickel, cobalt, chromium, and zinc)
What Are the Symptoms of Allergies?
Allergy symptoms vary, depending on the type of allergens.
Rhinitis, for instance, is commonly associated with the following symptoms:
- Runny nose
- Itchy eyes, nose, and throat
- Tearing eyes
An allergic food reaction may share some of the above symptoms, but it can also cause:
- Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
- Hives, eczema, or itchy skin
Anaphylaxis, in which a narrowing of the airways makes it difficult or even impossible to breathe.
A skin allergy or insect bite can cause the following at the site:
The symptoms of a drug allergy may include:
- Swelling of the face or throat
Certain allergies can strike at any time during the year. Seasonal allergies, on the other hand, occur at times of the year when certain types of outdoor allergens are more predominant.
“You can have both,” says Dr. Bassett. About two-thirds of people with seasonal allergies also have year-round or persistent allergies.
Seasonal allergies are most often triggered by mold and pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds such as ragweed. The allergic reaction occurs during the weeks or months when the plant pollinates.
Allergy triggers may vary depending on geographic location and climate, but relocating to avoid seasonal allergies generally doesn’t help. Pollen and mold spores travel great distances; and people with allergies often develop sensitivity to other allergens in a different location.
Environmental factors such as pollution and climate change associated with rising temperatures may be contributing to a rise in allergies. Changes in the duration and intensity of pollen and mold seasons mean more people are exposed to allergens for longer amounts of time. “That’s a longer period of time for your eyes and nose and throat to become symptomatic as a result,” Bassett says.
In a 2015 survey of allergists, 63 percent of respondents felt climate change was causing an increase in allergic symptoms among their patients.
Ninety percent of children and 50 percent of adults with asthma have allergic asthma.