A runny nose, sneezing, itchiness or rashes. Everybody reacts differently to environmental and genetic factors.
Medical Advisor Alejandro Mario Carreño Pérez
Allergist and immunologist, practitioner at Coomeva Private Healthcare
When responding to allergies, the body experiences a sort of internal fight between the tolerance and intolerance it has with stimulus. “When tolerance wins, symptoms decrease; when intolerance wins, symptoms increase,” explains Alejandro Mario Carreño Pérez, allergist and immunologist. So how can you identify an allergy and why does it only affect some? According to the specialist, allergies are a hypersensitive or hyperreactive response of the immune system, which protects the body from foreign agents. Carreño adds that allergies are also a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Genetic factors include the genetic inheritance or predisposition of the parents, while environmental factors are more related to changes in a living situation, “Nowadays, we live in smaller spaces with more couches and carpets. Now homes are not as big, and the majority of the time we must be exposed to air conditioning and live behind closed doors and windows, increasing the concentration of allergens, the most common one being dust.”
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, other factors that trigger allergies include pollen, animal dander, some foods, insect bites and even medications.
When it comes to allergies, identifying the cause is priority, which is why experts suggest getting a consultation and getting diagnostic exams to pinpoint what the allergen is. It is also important to avoid self-medicating, as this can have side effects that doctors would need to detect.
The most common allergies
Allergic rhinitis (or “hay fever,” as it is commonly referred to) is inflammation of the upper respiratory tract. Its symptoms include a stuffy nose, sneezing, nasal itch and rhinorrhea (clear nasal discharge). These symptoms can range from minor to severe, which is considered to be an occurrence of four times a week. It can happen throughout one’s life and may require specific treatment.
Another common allergy is bronchial asthma. It is also inflammation of the upper respiratory tract, and its symptoms include difficulty breathing, wheezing when breathing, pressure in the chest, coughing, and intercostal retractions (which is when the muscles between the ribs pull inward). “When this inflammation is uncontrolled, episodes can become more common. With this type of allergy, the passage the air goes through becomes increasingly narrower, so the person can inhale the air, but has difficulty exhaling it,” adds Carreño.
This type of allergy is more common in children than in adults. In fact, among the children that experience wheezing before age six, this condition will go away with 70% of them and the remaining group will have it for the rest of their lives and should be monitored for it, the expert states.
Another condition, atopic dermatitis, is a skin condition that presents in the form of rashes or eczema around the folds of skin around the elbows, knees and neck; however, it may occur anywhere on the body. “Because the skin becomes rough, dry and itchy, this used to be known as skin asthma. This condition is more common in children and generally goes away, but some adults have more severe cases of it due to how difficult it is to manage. It’s initially related to having a food allergy,” explains Carreño.
While allergies clearly can cause a series of symptoms such as sneezing, a runny nose, itchiness and inflammation, among others, some reactions, while more severe, are less common. Anaphylactic shock can be fatal as it can cause hypotension, fainting, confusion, loss of consciousness and difficulty breathing. “These are signs that someone’s life is in an imminent risk. In such cases, it is important to see your doctor immediately. Once the allergen is identified, you can learn how to administer your own injection or use emergency medications, but always under the guise of an allergy specialist,” the allergist explains.
What causes anaphylactic shock?
The most common causes of this are:
- Insect bites (wasp bites, for example)
- Medications (penicillin, for example)
- Contrast dyes used for radiology examinations.
- Foods such as nuts.