September 2, 2015

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Allergies FAQs

Reviewed by John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

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Q:What are allergies?

A:Allergies are an overreaction from the body's immune system to foreign substances called allergens.

Allergic reactions can result in sneezing, coughing, runny nose, and itching. Most of the time the reactions are bothersome, but in some cases they can be life-threatening and severe. Allergies may be seasonal, such as hay fever, but they may also be associated with chronic conditions such as asthma or sinusitis.

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Q:What is anaphylaxis?

A:Anaphylaxis is a sudden, severe, and life-threatening immune system reaction.

Most allergic reactions will not develop into anaphylaxis, but in people with certain allergies the immune system mistakenly responds to the allergens as if they were harmful.

The most common allergens that may cause anaphylactic reactions include insect stings, foods, medications, and latex.

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Q:The term allergic rhinitis is the proper medical term for "hay fever." True or false?

A:True. The term allergic rhinitis is the proper medical term for "hay fever."

Rhinitis is inflammation of the nasal passages which can cause symptoms such as sneezing, itching, nasal congestion, runny nose, and postnasal drip (when mucus drains from the sinuses down the back of the throat). Most people develop symptoms of allergic rhinitis in childhood or young adulthood, though it can start at any age. At times patients will have no symptoms, and others will have them only certain times of the year. Symptoms are worst in children and adults in their 30s and 40s, though the severity of the symptoms varies throughout a person's life.

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Q:What are allergy medicines called?

A:The class of drugs used treat to allergic reactions is called antihistamines.

Your body releases substances called histamines which attach to cells in the body, causing them to swell and leak fluid. This results in common allergy symptoms such as itching, sneezing, runny nose, and watery eyes. Antihistamines help prevent or relieve allergy symptoms by preventing histamines from attaching to the cells and causing symptoms.

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Q:Allergies can cause conjunctivitis. True or false?

A:True. Allergies can cause conjunctivitis (pink eye), which is common in people who have other types of allergies such as hay fever, asthma, or eczema.

Reactions to common allergens such as pollen, dust mites, animal dander, medications, cosmetics, and other allergy-provoking substances can result in allergic conjunctivitis.

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Q:What is pet dander?

A:Pet dander is the proper term for microscopic particles of skin shed by pets such as cats, dogs, rodents, birds, and any other animal with fur or feathers.

In some people who are allergic to pet dander, these tiny flecks of skin can cause allergic reactions. In addition, proteins found in saliva, urine, and feces from cats, dogs, and other pets may trigger allergic reactions in some people.

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Q:What is pollen?

A:Pollen is a powder produced by certain plants that can trigger allergies.

Throughout the year in the spring, summer, and fall, pollen is released into the air and carried by the wind to other plants to make seeds. This is how plants reproduce, but the pollen that travels in the wind is also in the air we breathe. For those who are allergic to it, it can trigger asthma and allergy symptoms.

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Q:Which is disease is commonly associated with a gluten allergy?

A:People with celiac disease are allergic to gluten, a protein.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where the small intestine is damaged, which interferes with absorption of nutrients from food. People with this disease are allergic to gluten, and cannot tolerate the gluten found in wheat, rye, and barley products. Gluten is found primarily in foods, but it can also be found in medications, vitamins, and lip balms.

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Q:On average, how many Americans suffer from allergies?

A:About 20% of Americans – 40 to 50 million people - suffer from allergies, making it the 5th largest chronic disease.

Allergies are found among people of all ages, ethnicities, and genders. The most common allergens are indoor/outdoor, food and drug, latex, insects, and skin and eye allergies.

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Q:How are allergies diagnosed?

A:Allergies are diagnosed with skin tests and blood tests.

Skin testing is considered the most accurate, but both skin and blood testing can detect a person's sensitivity to common allergens such as pollen, mold, dust mites, medicines, foods, latex, or other substances. Skin testing is usually preferred but allergy blood tests may be performed if a patient has severe skin rashes, or if a person is taking a medication that cannot be stopped that would interfere with the results of a skin allergy test.

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Q:An allergic reaction can produce urticaria. Urticaria is a common term for …

A:Urticaria is the medical term for hives, a common allergic reaction that affects about 20% of people at some point in their lives.

There are many triggers for hives, but the symptoms include itchy patches of skin that become swollen red welts. Itching can be mild to severe, and may be made worse by scratching, alcoholic beverages, exercise, and stress.

Urticaria is the medical term for hives, a common allergic reaction that affects about 20% of people at some point in their lives. There are many triggers for hives, but the symptoms include itchy patches of skin that become swollen red welts. Itching can be mild to severe, and may be made worse by scratching, alcoholic beverages, exercise, and stress. Many people are aware of their triggers for hives, such as eating foods including shrimp or peanuts which cause the allergic reaction within a short time. For others, there are so many possible causes of hives it requires allergy testing by a physician, and in a small number of cases the cause may never be identified.

Many people are aware of their triggers for hives, such as eating foods including shrimp or peanuts which cause the allergic reaction within a short time. For others, there are so many possible causes of hives it requires allergy testing by a physician. In a small number of cases the cause may never be identified.

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