By ROB W. ANDERSON
An allergy is a hypersensitivity disorder, or abnormal response, of the immune system, and at least one out of every five people lives with the compromised physical condition.
May is Allergy Awareness Month, and some common causes of allergy symptoms include food allergies like peanut or milk allergy, and season allergies created by grass, weed, tree pollen, various molds or pet dander.
According to WebMD, an allergic reaction can occur when a person is exposed to an allergen either by swallowing it, inhaling it or having it come in contact with the skin either under the skin or in topical fashion. The body then begins to produce a type of antibody known as IgE, which binds to the allergen. These antibodies then attach to a blood cell called a mast cell, which can be found in the body’s airways, intestines and elsewhere.
Mast cells present in the airways and GI tract cause these areas to become more susceptible to allergen exposure. The allergens are drawn to the IgE, which has become attached to the mast cell. This process prompts the mast cells to release a variety of chemicals into the blood, the main of which is histamine. This chemical causes many allergy symptoms like a runny nose or sneezing.
Spring is a bad time for allergy sufferers, and people may experience sneezing and red, watery eyes, said Tahlequah City Hospital Chief of Staff Dr. Brent Rotton.
“Grass, shrubs and trees are blooming and growing. Spring rains and high humidity can contribute to the growth of mold inside and out. Normally, the immune system functions as the body’s defense against invading agents such as bacteria and viruses,” he said. “In most allergic reactions, the immune system is responding to a false alarm. A chain reaction occurs in which histamine and other chemicals are released. Histamine can cause sneezing, itching, irritation and excess mucus production.”
Rotton said other symptoms of allergies include coughing and post-nasal drip, itching eyes, nose and throat, red-trimmed and swollen eyes, with possible crusting of the eyelids and allergic shiners, or dark circles under the eyes.
“Allergies differ from colds in the duration of symptoms. If symptoms continue for weeks on end, it is probably allergies. Wheezing and shortness of breath may include asthma, which is best diagnosed and treated by your health professional,” he said. “If allergies interfere with your daily life, visit with your doctor or pharmacist. Many new medications available over-the-counter are more effective and have fewer side effects than previous options.”
Rotton said a way to cope with allergies is to figure out your allergy triggers, avoid them when possible, and consider buying an air-filtering device to help reduce allergens in your home’s air.
Cherokee County Extension Office Family and Consumer Science Educator Heather Winn said she and other family and consumer science educators receive training in the area of food allergies.
“I personally have experience with food allergies thanks to Ross, my 10-year-old. He is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish,” she said. “He also has many environmental allergies, eczema and asthma.”
Winn said food allergies are common, and that there are eight common foods that cause about 90 percent of allergic reactions.
“They are peanut, tree nuts, eggs, what, soy, fish, shellfish and milk. Of course, people can be allergic to any food,” she said. “The body’s immune system is designed to protect us from germs. However, for people with food allergies, the immune system makes a mistake and identifies a food protein as something bad and attacks, causing a reaction. Reactions usually occur within a few minutes of consuming the allergen, but can happen up to a few hours later. The allergy symptoms fall into three categories: skin, nose, throat and lung, and stomach, or intestinal.”
Winn added that people who have food allergies are likely to also have asthma or show sensitivities to other inhaled allergens.
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