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Allergies — What’s the Deal?

You wake up one day with a scratchy throat, itchy eyes, and non-stop sneezing. Hellooo, allergies! People who have never had allergies before are often surprised when they “suddenly” develop them. What’s the deal? Here’s what’s going on…

Respiratory Allergies vs. Food Allergies

Food allergies

Food allergies are extremely common, and likely affect someone you know (if not yourself). Aside from the usual culprits — nuts, shellfish, wheat, dairy, eggs, and soy — there are a myriad of foods that can cause mild to severe allergic reactions in people. The complexities of food allergies merit their own article; so, this one will focus on respiratory allergies.

Respiratory allergies

Respiratory allergies are also known by the clinical term “allergic rhinitis” and sometimes referred to as “hay fever”. These allergies can be seasonal or year-round (perennial). They can be mild or severe. And they are due to the air you breathe.

We’re all familiar with common airborne allergens:

  • Pollen, ragweed
  • Pet dander
  • Mold spores
  • Dust mites

Respiratory allergy symptoms include itchy eyes, throat, nose, mouth; watery eyes; coughing; sneezing; and nasal congestion. At first, some people can mistake allergies for a cold or sinus infection.

It’s worth noting that there are other substances, such as cigarette smoke, fragrances, cleaning solutions, and ozone pollution, to which exposure can mimic allergy symptoms. However, these irritants are technically not allergens, as they don’t trigger the body’s allergic response.

How Do Allergies Develop?

Like a cat stalking its unsuspecting prey…

Imagine a room with an open window. A long tangled piece of yarn has gotten stuck to the screen. Every now and then a breeze causes it to flutter briefly.

Now imagine an agitated, paranoid, but extremely focused kitten in the corner of the room, hunched and ready to attack, eyes trained on this foreign invader about to infiltrate its territory.

At just the right moment, the kitty pounces, killing its prey (and destroying the screen at the same time)!

Like this overzealous kitten, an allergy starts when the body’s immune system overreacts to a harmless foreign substance — like a pollen spore — in the body. Convinced the pollen is dangerous, the immune system treats it as a threat and therefore produces antibodies to fight it. Those antibodies (histamines) are responsible for the allergy symptoms we experience.

Just like the collateral damage of the destroyed window screen, allergy symptoms are simply an unfortunate consequence of a good intention.

When do allergies develop?

The majority of people with allergies develop them in childhood. A child’s immune system is still developing and tends to “overreact” more while it is establishing itself. Some children will grow out of allergies by the time they reach adulthood.

However, more and more adults are waking up later in life and finding that the first notes of spring aren’t all sunshine and baby bunnies — but rather, itchy eyes and sore throats. Adult-onset allergies mostly affect people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. It’s not completely understood why, as the general consensus of the medical community has been that a person’s allergic profile is set by their 20s. But here are some theories for the rise of adult-onset allergies:

  • A change in location (a move to a new geographic region with different allergens)
  • A major health issue that disrupted a person’s immune system (like an extended illness or a pregnancy)
  • Only just now reaching the exposure threshold level for certain allergens that should have been reached as a child
  • An increase in the amount of pollutants in both indoor and outdoor air (sitting all day in poorly ventilated offices / the rising levels of pollution due to climate change)
  • Overly-sanitary living conditions have disrupted a person’s immune system (too much hand sanitizer, anyone?)

Regardless of the reason, the important question is: is there any relief in sight?

Relief from Allergies

What you can do to help your allergy symptoms

There is no cure for allergies, but people can seek relief or try to minimize symptoms in a number of ways:

  • Taking over-the-counter antihistamines
  • Using high efficiency (HEPA) air purifiers indoors
  • Trying nasal irrigation (neti pot)

Honey for allergies?

You may have heard eating local honey or bee pollen will help with allergies. The idea is that you can gradually help your body develop an immunity to the pollen in your area. This hasn’t been proven, though studies have had varied (mostly negative) results. Bee pollen can actually be harmful to people with allergies, triggering anaphylaxis. Proceed with caution, and remember not to feed honey to babies under age one.

How a doctor can help your allergy symptoms

If your self-help methods aren’t quite enough, a doctor can give you:

  • prescription-strength antihistamines
  • nasal corticosteroids
  • allergy shots (steroid injections)

In severe or complicated cases, your doctor will refer you to an allergist for further evaluation and treatment.  

Allergies are nothing to sneeze at!

Anyone with allergies knows they can derail everyday life and make you feel completely miserable! If you are in need of relief from respiratory allergies that you can’t seem to shake, visit a local urgent care clinic to see a doctor. In and Out Express Care has four convenient urgent care locations in Hampton Roads. We’ll help you get relief from your allergies, so you can get back to life!