Alan Szeftel, MD
Dr. Szeftel received his Medical Degree from the University of Cape Town Medical School in South Africa. His clinical training was at Groote Schuur Hospital. He completed his Internal Medicine residency at Brigham & Women's Hospital and Harvard University. He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Pulmonary Diseases, Critical Care and Allergy and Immunology.
William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
- Allergy facts
- What does an allergy mean?
- What causes allergies?
- Who is at risk and why?
- What are common allergic conditions, and what are allergy symptoms and signs?
- Hay Fever
- Allergic Eyes
- Allergic Eczema
- Allergic Shock
- Where are allergens? Everywhere
- In the air we breathe
- In what we ingest
- Touching our skin
- Injected into our body
- Common Allergy Triggers Slideshow
- Take the Quiz on Allergies
- Allergy Proof Your Home Slideshow
- Allergies FAQs
- Patient Comments: Allergies - Causes
- Patient Comments: Allergies - Describe Your Experience
- Patient Comments: Allergies - Symptoms
- Find a local Asthma & Allergy Specialist in your town
- Allergy involves an exaggerated response of the immune system.
- The immune system is the body's organized defense mechanism against foreign invaders, particularly infections.
- Allergens are substances that are foreign to the body and can cause an allergic reaction.
- IgE is the allergy antibody.
- Allergies can develop at any age.
- Your risk of developing allergies is related to your parents' allergy history.
In this review you will learn how allergy relates to the immune system. You will begin understanding how and why certain people become allergic. The most common allergic diseases are discussed briefly in this article.
What does an allergy mean?
An allergy refers to an exaggerated reaction by our immune system in response to bodily contact with certain foreign substances. It is exaggerated because these foreign substances are usually seen by the body as harmless and no response occurs in non- allergic people. Allergic people's bodies recognize the foreign substance and one part of the immune system is turned on. Allergy-producing substances are called "allergens." Examples of allergens include pollens, dust mite, molds, danders, and foods. To understand the language of allergy it is important to remember that allergens are substances that are foreign to the body and can cause an allergic reaction in certain people.
When an allergen comes in contact with the body, it causes the immune system to develop an allergic reaction in persons who are allergic to it. When you inappropriately react to allergens that are normally harmless to other people, you are having an allergic reaction and can be referred to as allergic or atopic. Therefore, people who are prone to allergies are said to be allergic or "atopic."
Austrian pediatrician Clemens Pirquet (1874-1929) first used the term allergy. He referred to both immunity that was beneficial and to the harmful hypersensitivity as "allergy." The word allergy is derived from the Greek words "allos," meaning different or changed and "ergos," meaning work or action. Allergy roughly refers to an "altered reaction." The word allergy was first used in 1905 to describe the adverse reactions of children who were given repeated shots of horse serum to fight infection. The following year, the term allergy was proposed to explain this unexpected "changed reactivity."
- It is estimated that 50 million North Americans are affected by allergic conditions.
- The cost of allergies in the United States is more than $10 billion dollars yearly.
- Allergic rhinitis (nasal allergies) affects about 35 million Americans, 6 million of whom are children.
- Asthma affects 15 million Americans, 5 million of whom are children.
- The number of cases of asthma has doubled over the last 20 years.
Next: What causes allergies?
Viewers share their comments
Allergies & Asthma
Improve treatments & prevent attacks.