What's going around this month.....Allergies
Welcome to the April 2011 issue of the Health Matters Newsletter. The Health Matters Newsletter is published on a monthly basis on the Health Center home page, and is linked to the weekly Campus Report. The purpose of the newsletter is to share information, regarding pertinent medical issues and health and wellness suggestions with the students, faculty, and staff here at SUNY Fredonia. This month's topic is "Allergies".
Spring is in the air. The snow has melted, the grass is starting to get greener, and everything is beginning to show its new blossoms. Although spring brings out the beauty in nature, those of us who have spring allergies know that this beauty can bring on some not so pleasant symptoms such as sniffling, sneezing, watery eyes and a runny nose.
What are allergies?
Allergies are a reaction by the body’s immune system to normally harmless substances, such as pollen, mold, animal dander, etc. The allergy causing substances are called allergens.
How do allergies occur?
Your immune system is your body’s natural defense against infection and other foreign material. Before you can have a reaction to a particular substance, your immune system must first be sensitized to it. This means that your body has to have been exposed to the substance at least once before. Once sensitized, your body will react every time you have contact with that substance. Many substances can cause an allergic reaction. Here are the most common ones:
- Animal Dander
- Dust and dust mites
- Insect stings
These allergens may cause different kinds of allergic reactions. The most common allergic conditions are hay fever (sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes). Some can cause a skin rash. And others can cause an asthmatic type reaction with wheezing and chest tightness.
- Airborne allergens such as mold and pollen of trees, grasses and weeds cause hay fever.
- Pollens, molds, and house dust can trigger asthma attacks.
- Allergic reactions of the skin can have many possible causes. These irritants, such as hair and skin products, nickel in jewelry and belt buckles, dyes in leather or fabric and poison ivy and oak, can cause an allergic reaction when they touch your skin.
- Food, such as shellfish, eggs, milk, nuts, and peanuts can cause allergy symptoms as well. These can range from a simple rash or stomach ache to difficulty breathing and chest tightness.
Why do some people get allergies and others do not?
It is not known why some people develop allergies to certain substances. Allergies run in families, but not every family member may be allergic to the same thing. The type of reaction to a certain allergen can be different as well. Some people can have a simple sniffle or rash, others the reaction may be more severe. This type of a reaction is called anaphylaxis. It is a life threatening emergency that can affect breathing and circulation within several minutes. Insect stings, certain foods, and drugs such as penicillin are some of the more common causes of severe allergic reactions.
What are the symptoms of allergies?
The symptoms of an allergic reaction depend on the type and severity of the reaction. Common symptoms of an allergy are:
- Watery eyes
- Stuffy or runny nose
- A rash or hives (raised, red, itchy areas on the skin)
- Stomach cramps
Some of the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction are:
- Fast pulse
- Trouble breathing, including wheezing
- Nausea and vomiting
- Swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat
- Pale, cool, damp skin
- Drowsiness, confusion, or loss of consciousness
How are allergies diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask you about your history of symptoms and examine you. There are tests to find out which allergens are causing your symptoms. For most people, the best tests are skin scratch tests. For these tests, your provider looks for reactions to tiny amounts of suspected allergens placed under your skin. In some cases you may have blood test to help find what you are allergic to.
To identify a food allergy, your provider may suggest that you try to find which foods cause a reaction by avoiding certain foods for a while. Then you can carefully try eating these foods again, one by one, to see if your symptoms come back.
How are allergies treated?
Mild symptoms may not need treatment. Or, depending on the type of allergy you have and your symptoms, your healthcare provider may prescribe:
- Steroid medicine
- Quick-acting, inhaled bronchodilators to treat breathing problems
In some cases, your provider may suggest allergy shots. A mixture is prepared that contains the allergens identified in your allergy testes. The mixture is injected into your skin in tiny but increasing amounts over the course of many months. Over time, the shots make you less sensitive to the allergens. Usually after 4 to 6 months of allergy shots you will begin to have relief from your allergies. You will probably need to continue these shots for 2 to 3 years, sometimes longer.
If you have severe allergies, your provider may prescribe an EpiPen emergency kit for you to carry with you at all times. The kit contains a ready-to-use syringe of epinephrine. If you have a severe allergic reaction, someone with you can give you a hot of this medicine to counteract the allergy symptoms until you get medical care. The kit is not intended as the sole treatment of an allergic reaction. It gives you to time to get to a medical provider for treatment. If you have a severe allergic reaction, you need to call 911 right away. Use an EpiPen if you have one. Teach family members and coworkers how to help you if you have a severe reaction.
How long does an allergic reaction last?
The effects of an allergic reaction depend on how much you have been exposed to an allergen and how severe your allergy is. You may have symptoms for several minutes, hours or days. Some people outgrow their allergies. Others may have allergies all their life.
How can I take care of myself with allergies?
- Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions.
- Try to avoid the things you are allergic to.
- If you tend to have severe allergy reactions, ask your provider about carrying medicine with you, such as an EpiPen, for emergency use. Wear an ID, such as a Medic Alert bracelet, that lists your severe allergies.
How can I help prevent allergies?
There is no known way to prevent allergies. If your family has a very strong history of allergies, you might try to avid your family’s most common allergens.
Cigarette smoke can make hay fever and asthma symptoms worse. You can help your symptoms by not smoking. It also helps to avoid being around others who are smoking. Children living in homes with smokers are more likely to develop asthma.
Where can I get more information about allergies?
- The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology offers a variety of services. They can provide educational materials, pollen count reports and maps, and a physician referral directory. Call 800-822-2762 or visit their web site at http://www.aaaai.org.
- The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of American offers educational programs and services. They also offer asthma and allergy support groups across the country for adults, parents, teens, and caregivers. Call 800-727-8462 or visit their web site at http://www.aafa.org.
- The American Lung Association offers educational materials and support group information. Check your local telephone listing for a chapter near you, call 800-586-4872, or visit their web site at http://www.lungusa.org.
- The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network is a worldwide network that provides educational materials, allergy alerts, and research studies related to food allergies. Call 800-929-4040 or visit their web site at http://www.foodallergy.org.