written by: kristenrosenthal
• edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski
• updated: 2/23/2009
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (2003), 50 million people in the U.S. suffer from some type of allergy. Unfortunately, many people do not understand what allergies actually are; however, most of us are familiar with allergy symptoms associated with this disease.
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What is an Allergy?
An allergy is a response of your body’s immune system to a normally harmless substance and causes inflammation and subsequent symptoms of an allergic response. Normally, your immune system protects you from diseases by attacking bacteria, viruses, and parasites that may enter your body. Unfortunately, in some people this defense mechanism backfires and attacks harmless things, such as pollen, dust, latex, and even food or medications.
The following describes some of the common symptoms associated with an allergic reaction and ways to possibly alleviate these symptoms; however, some allergy symptoms mimic various symptoms of colds and other diseases, so it is important to discuss your specific symptoms with your doctor to decide on the appropriate diagnostic actions and treatment options.
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Ocular allergy symptoms are most often the result of airborne allergens, such as pollens, molds, and animal dander. Occasionally, an allergy to your contact lenses or lens cleaning solution can also occur. These allergy symptoms include itchy, red eyes and may include either abnormal discharge or abnormal drying of the eye. To treat these symptoms, many eye drops and/or oral medications containing antihistamines, anti-inflammatory agents, or corticosteroids are available. In addition, cool compresses and flushing of the eyes may also provide some relief. (Adapted from: Butrus, 2005).
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Often, allergic reactions to airborne allergens, such as pollen, mold, pet dander, and dust mites result in nasal symptoms, also called rhinitis. These signs of a nasal allergy include itchy and/or runny nose, sneezing, and even sinus infections. To treat these common allergy symptoms, there are many over-the-counter medications available. These medications include antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal sprays. In addition to these medications, allergy shots are also an option for treatment of chronic allergy symptoms and may lead to permanent alleviation of these symptoms. (Adapted from: NIAID, 2003).
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Topical exposure (exposure through skin contact) to certain allergens, including poison ivy, latex, and cosmetic ingredients, may cause various skin conditions. These allergy symptoms vary from swelling and itching to rashes, hives, and eczema. In addition to topical exposure of allergens, allergic reactions to food, medicine, and even airborne allergens can also cause these symptoms. Treatment of allergic dermatitis usually includes topical corticosteroid creams (by prescription only) and may include oral antihistamines or corticosteroids. Additionally, cold compresses, over-the-counter lotions, and even coal tar has been shown to offer some relief. (Adapted from AAAAI, 2007).
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Although not always associated with an allergic response, exposure to some food or oral medications can also cause allergic reactions. The top food allergens are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, and wheat gluten. The allergy symptoms of the gastrointestinal tract include gas, bloating, abdominal cramping, nausea, and diarrhea. Unfortunately, the only true treatment for food allergies is elimination of the offending substance from your diet.
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Even though these symptoms are broken down into categories here, most of the time allergy symptoms occur in concert with many of the other symptoms and not in isolation. The best treatment for allergy symptoms is prevention and avoidance of the inciting allergen, but often, this is extremely difficult. Although no allergy treatment is fail-proof, most offer at least some relief from the annoying, and sometime debilitating, allergy symptoms.
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National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. Airborne Allergens: Something in the Air. NIH Publication No 03-7045. April 2003 www.niaid.nih.gov
Butrus S, Portela R. Ocular Allergy: diagnosis and treatment. Ophthalmol Clin North Ame. 2005 Dec; 18(4): 485-492, v.
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Tips to Remember: Allergic Skin Conditions. Public Education Committee of AAAAI. 2007. www.aaaai.org