An allergy is a pathological reaction of the body to certain factors or substances. The first symptoms of allergy may appear in infants, but it happens that the allergy appears after the age of 30 or even 40. Already every fourth Pole suffers from an allergy.
Worldwide observations show that the number of allergy sufferers doubles every ten years. The list of allergens, i.e., substances that can sensitize us, is also getting longer. Why is this happening? What are the causes of allergies, and how is it treated?
Allergy is the over-zealous nature of our immune system. The normal situation is that when, for example, viruses or bacteria invade the body, special blood cells (T lymphocytes) give a signal to produce antibodies that are to neutralize pathogenic microorganisms. In an allergy sufferer, this mechanism fails. The immune system recognizes the enemy not only in viruses, bacteria but also in completely innocent substances, in the air or food. These substances are called allergens. So allergy testing is very important.
Allergy diagnosis (main tests)
If we suspect an allergy in ourselves or a child, don’t panic. Let’s do the appropriate tests and start treatment. It preferably in winter or early spring, when there is no allergenic pollen outside.
Together with the child, we must visit the pediatrician and tell him about our suspicions. The doctor will ask about the symptoms – whether we have noticed, when they occur or intensify, whether someone in our family suffers from an allergy, what the child eats, whether there are pets at home.
He will carefully examine the toddler’s skin. If he deems it necessary, he may order additional analyzes – X-rays of the lungs, sinuses, blood tests – to exclude causes of symptoms other than allergy. When everything indicates an allergy, we will get a referral to an allergist.
This is the easiest method to find the cause of an allergy. It is better at detecting inhaled allergens, slightly less food, and contact allergens. Droplets of various suspensions containing sensitizing substances are applied to the forearm or back (10-20 allergens are checked at one time). Then, the doctor or nurse gently pricks the epidermis through the drop of allergen.
It is a painless procedure. Punctures usually do not even bleed. A special disposable lance is used for this, so there is no risk of transmitting infections, e.g., hepatitis B or HIV. It’s important to check allergy symptoms.
After each puncture, a small amount of allergen solution passes under the epidermis. If we are allergic to a given allergen, after about 15 minutes, it will cause an allergic reaction: redness, bubbles like a mosquito bite, and itching.
The skin reaction is proportional to the degree of sensitization, i.e., the greater the blister and redness, the more sensitizing the allergen. Only an allergist can correctly interpret these changes. The allergic reaction is self-limiting after 30-60 minutes.
Allergy – the mechanism of the formation of allergies
When an allergen, such as plant pollen, first enters the body of someone who is allergic, IgE antibodies form in the immune system. They will defeat the enemy, i.e., pollen, and a small amount of them will remain in the blood permanently. That’s in case the intruder gets into the body again.
There will be veins attached to the surface of the so-called eosinophilic cells (found in the blood serum) and mast cells, i.e., mast cells (present in the connective tissue of the skin and mucous membranes). These cells contain large amounts of various substances called mediators responsible for the appearance of allergic symptoms.
The most important mediator causing an allergic reaction is histamine. At the first contact with an allergen, we usually do not feel any symptoms: runny nose, rash, tearing, or shortness of breath. However, when a greater amount of the allergen enters the body for the second time, an allergic reaction will begin. Allergens will bind to the IgE antibodies and begin to fight on the surface of mast cells and eosinophils.
Allergy – causes
Any factor recognized as unknown and hostile to the body’s immune system can cause an allergy. Food allergies are the cause of problems.
These can be substances in the air, such as pollen, house dust mites, feathers, animal hair, wool, dust, mold spores. The impact of environmental pollution, especially smoke and exhaust gases, is also important.
Foods also cause allergy, like chicken eggs, cow’s milk, nuts, especially peanuts, fish, and crustaceans.
Chemicals can also be a cause of allergies. Such chemicals can include disinfectants such as chloramine, formaldehyde, ethylene oxide, chlorhexidine, with which health care workers working in the chemical industry, agriculture, and fishery come into contact. Food allergy testing is very important.
Even if neither parent is allergic, this does not completely rule out their child is allergic. Experts say the risk is around 10 percent in this case. This is because there can always be genetic mutation in a child, and secondly, we are generally more prone to allergies.
Allergy – types
Usually, it makes itself felt in spring. The most common airborne allergens are the pollen of flowering plants: grasses, grains, trees. But beware: inhalation allergy can bother you all year round. Everything in the air can sensitize fungal and mold spores, mites, dust particles, animal hair, and even insect feces.
It occurs when the body has an allergic reaction to a food ingredient. You can be allergic to many foods at the same time. It is worth knowing that they usually sensitize the products eaten the most in a given country.
This type of allergy is when it sensitizes things that you come into contact with. It is often allergic to chrome, nickel, formaldehyde, textile dyes, fragrance oils, aroma, and parabens (preservatives) added to cosmetics and chemicals. Virtually all chemicals that come into contact with the skin can cause allergies. As a result, mascara, washing-up liquid, jewelry, belt buckle, and even glasses frames may be allergenic.
Allergy – symptoms
It is difficult to know exactly when to suspect an allergy, as the course and symptoms of the disease may differ from person to person. Besides, for example, skin symptoms do not have to appear only after contact of the skin with the allergen – urticaria may also be a symptom of allergy to cow’s milk protein.