Do you often find yourself sniffling through springtime? If so, you may have a seasonal allergy. An allergy is the body’s reaction, often misguided, to a foreign body generally called an ‘antigen’.
Every day, the human system is exposed to a variety of foreign particles. Some of these, such as some bacteria and viruses, are harmful to us. Others, such as pollen, dust and smoke are not infectious the same way as pathogens are, but are classified as ‘foreign bodies’ because they don’t belong in our systems.
When we are born, our immune system, comprising mainly of White Blood Cells and Gut Bacteria, has no experience handling these foreign bodies. Over time, it ‘learns’ based on the different things it is exposed to. For example, the immune system learns that food is not harmful, while some viruses are.
However, in some cases, the system mistakes a perfectly harmless foreign object and reacts to it with its full arsenal drawn in a condition we call allergies.
"Our Gut consists of 80% of our Immune System"
Allergy v/s Autoimmue:
Allergies & Auto-immune are disorders of the Immune system. It (Immune system) either attacks the body itself causing autoimmune disorders, while other times it attacks harmless foreign particles causing allergies
Allergy v/s Intolerance/Sensitivity:
Allergies are caused by the reaction of the immune system, whereas intolerances or sensitivity are caused by the reaction of the digestive system. Symptoms in both cases, sometimes are similar
Based on the foreign body that causes the reaction and the symptoms that manifest, allergies can be classified into many different categories. Some allergies are just inconvenient to have, while others are potentially fatal.
1. Respiratory Allergies-
2. Food Allergies-
Food allergies are commonly caused by an adverse reaction to certain proteins in food. People are more commonly allergic to
Hives, vomiting, diarrhoea are common symptoms. Can quickly turn fatal if the epiglottis swells up and restricts breathing.
3. Insect Allergies-
Some people are allergic to the stings of different insects, most commonly bees. Hives and wheezing are the starting symptoms, and can quickly progress into respiratory distress, low blood pressure and anaphylactic shock.
4. Drug Allergies-
Some people are allergic to medications, especially those obtained from natural sources such as antibiotics and some anti-seizure medications. A patch test is often done if a drug allergy is suspected.
5. Skin Allergies-
Contact Dermatitis: Literally anything can cause this condition in which the exposed area of the skin begins to develop a rash and itch severely. Common culprits include detergent residues, chemicals in cosmetics and poison ivy.
Eczema: Hypersensitive skin caused due to a chronic form of contact dermatitis. There is no known permanent cure.
In the United States, allergies are the most common chronic conditions and hay fever affects roughly 10% of all adults, and children
In the United Kingdom, it is estimated that 44% of the populations suffers from one allergy or another.
Nearly 550 million people, both adults and children, suffer from allergies the world over.
Asthma alone is expected to affect 400 million people the world over by 2025.
In India, no definitive studies exist for the population as a whole regarding allergies. In general, allergies are not considered a major health emergency. However, that situation may be changing rapidly.
There are three main factors that may put people at risk:
• Genetics- You inherit certain immunity and immune conditions from your family and hence it is safe to say that genes play a role in determining how one’s immune system reacts to antigens. For example, although some people may not be allergic to peanuts as such, their body may produce IgE because of the allergy genes inherited
e.g. MCM6 for Lactose, HLA-DQ 2.5, HLA DQ2.2 (M3),The reaction in such cases is mild and may however not be strong enough to be classified as a peanut allergy.
• Environment- Environmental allergies are reactions caused due to external factors relating to your surroundings. Exposure to pollen, dust, mould, etc. can cause a person to develop strong reactions such as hay fever, nasal congestions and the kind. As the levels of particulate pollutants go up in cities, respiratory allergies like asthma are on the rise too. Case in point- New Delhi, with an air quality score of 305, is very unhealthy for all outdoor activity.
• Food- This probably is the most commonly found and diagnosed type among allergies. As discussed earlier, the body recognizes food as an acceptable foreign substance. However, be it genetics or body’s natural reaction, it refuses to accept certain proteins in foods. It is also understood now that certain chemicals in processed and packaged foods are quite capable of producing allergies.
Some research is linking allergies to the balance of our gut bacteria. The imbalance in gut bacteria results in incomplete processing of the food particles which then travels via lymphatic systems thereby creating allergic reactions
Initially it is hard to diagnose allergies as the symptoms are common with other conditions. e.g. it is hard to distinguish allergic conjunctivitis from bacterial or viral conjunctivitis. Likewise, diarrhea and vomiting can also occur with intolerances and not just food allergies.
If you suspect an allergy, your healthcare practitioner may ask you to maintain a diary of all the things you eat, drink and are exposed to over a time period to identify the triggers.
It is also extremely difficult to pinpoint allergies in children. Most doctors do not recommend introducing allergens such as nuts until later in life, and children often come home with a sniffle or two once they begin school anyway.
Caution: Allergies can turn life-threatening in a matter of minutes. Please refer to the symptoms here and rush to a medical centre if critical symptoms are observed
Blood tests are very effective in diagnosing the allergies. IgE antibody and Eosinophils, are the most sensitive and immediate marker of hypersensitivity in people prone to allergies. The food allergies (veg & non-veg) can be detected through the blood tests
A whole gamut of triggers can be tested at the same time through a skin test. Often, small amounts of triggers are introduced just below the epidermis on the backs of patients. Skin tests can be conducted in people of all age groups. Results in a skin test are measured by the degree of induration (swelling) and can be obtained very fast. However, the risks include developing a severe reaction while being tested. This is why it is important to be tested in a controlled environment where treatment is readily available.
Gut Microbiome Tests
Studies on gut microbiome in patients with known allergies have shown that their gut flora is less diverse in species than people who have no allergies. Gut microbiome tests prove a valuable resource in identifying a possible treatment plan for those with chronic allergies.
Medically, there is no long-term treatment prescribed for allergies. Allopathic medicine considers allergies to be permanent. The more severe cases are prescribed an EpiPen to help keep them safe in case of emergencies
Medicines of the antihistamine class are prescribed for acute allergies, while chronic allergies are often treated using corticosteroid medication over a longer time period. It is essential that you follow medical advice and never stop medication midway.
Immunotherapy, the process of desensitization using small, but increasing, doses of the trigger is being advocated in some circles, but there is not enough research to corroborate its mainstream usage for all types of allergies
Non-conventional treatment modes such as homeopathy may be very effective in dealing with and curing allergies. In several tests conducted in clinical conditions, respiratory allergies showed marked improvement in a short span of time.
However, no such studies exist for food allergies and other allergies with the potential to turn fatal. It is therefore advised that you keep your entire medical team in the loop about any alternative treatments you might consider. Considering that most allergies are chronic conditions, you may need to make a few adjustments to your lifestyle and habits.
Content under Ayurveda
Broad nutritional strategies for people with Allergic conditions are -
1. Elimination Diet
Test the food that you are allergic to and start by eliminating those foods from the diet. If you are not sure of your allergies, then follow the FODMAP principles of eliminating most common allergies
2. Supplementing the lost nutrients:
For the food that are on the elimination list, consult with a nutritionist and find ways to supplement the loss of nutrients through this food source. In most cases, it is a simple transition from eating a certain group of foods to avoiding them altogether, but the transition does take time. In children diagnosed with milk protein intolerance, it may be worthwhile to explore other nutrition options as they need a lot of protein and calcium in the growing phase
3. Building the immune system
Supplements such as Spirulina and seeds of Nigella sativa have shown some promise as immunoboosters and can help strengthen the immune system. Balance the gut-bacteria through the use of right pro-biotic supplements and pre-biotics (prebiotics help in the growth of good bacteria)
If you are an active individual and discover that you have developed respiratory allergies, you may be a bit disappointed. However, do note that even people with allergic rhinitis and asthma can exercise and lead an active lifestyle as long as they avoid the triggers that set of allergic reactions.
Research backs the fact that asthma symptoms can be managed much better by working out more! As long as asthma is being managed medically, and you can tell when you are exhausted vs. when an asthma attack is coming, you are encouraged to consult with a trainer and begin with a good cardio workout especially Interval Training.
Did you know that David Beckham is asthmatic? There are many athletes who have performed well in both high-intensity and endurance sport by managing their asthma effectively and staying active. So, getting into that swimming pool or running that marathon (under medical advice) is just what you probably need to reset your mood, and to build a healthy habit in spite of allergies.
Sleep and rest
is a much-needed attribute in today’s fast-paced lifestyles. Stress in itself can set off inflammation and immune compromise in our bodies. It is very important to get enough rest for both the body and the mind to first prevent allergies, and to also prevent recurrence as much as possible
Allergies can certainly cause anxiety in patients and their caregivers. If you have experienced anaphylactic shock, you may feel anxious and panicked in some situations. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is shown to help in such cases. Speak to a licensed counsellor for the most effective treatment plan for you. Another, oft ignored, group of individuals are caregivers of young patients. It can be very stressful for parents and guardians of young children as they are always on their toes trying to prevent an emergency.
There is no way to vaccinate oneself against allergies, so to speak. However, one sure can prevent them to their best.
1. Test and know your allergens-
If you have allergic rhinitis, or food allergies, an allergen test can help you identify which component in air or food is causing the allergy. You can then proceed to avoid that trigger.
2. Avoid the trigger-
If you have been diagnosed as being allergic to a substance/ substances, the single most effective way to prevent an allergy is to avoid the trigger entirely. If you have a food allergy, avoid the trigger and even environs where it is being used in cooking. Be sure to communicate this to hosts when you visit for a meal.
3. Carry medications-
In cases of allergy to insect venom, or severe allergies to food, it is recommended that you always carry a shot of epinephrine in order to halt the progress of an allergy until you can get to the emergency room. Those suffering from asthma are advised to avoid triggers as much as possible, and to carry a prescribed inhaler at all times to prevent a severe attack. One can also carry Antihistamines along. However, caution must be taken in using them as they can have severe side effects.
The article is intended to provide you with the best possible overview and is not a medical advice. Please consult your medical practitioner before implementing any of the suggestions
1. Types of Allergies, American College of Allergies, Asthma and Immunology
2. Allergy Facts And Figures, Asthma And Allergy Foundation Of America
3. Statistics, AllergyUK
4. Food Allergy In India And Asia, Foods Matter
5. Hua, Xing, James J. Goedert, Angela Pu, Guoqin Yu, and Jianxin Shi. "Allergy associations with the adult fecal microbiota: analysis of the American Gut Project." EBioMedicine3 (2016): 172-179.
6. Allergy Testing, American College of Allergies, Asthma and Immunology
7. Gründling, Christa, Wolfgang Schimetta, and Michael Frass. "Real-life effect of classical homeopathy in the treatment of allergies: A multicenter prospective observational study."Wiener Klinische Wochenschrift 124, no. 1-2 (2012): 11-17.
8. Rosimini, Cherri. "Benefits of swim training for children and adolescents with asthma."Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners 15, no. 6 (2003): 247-252.
9. Allergies, Human Effect Matrix, Examine.com
10. Living with Anaphylaxis: Handling the Stress, Allergy Asthma Information Society
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