Before we discuss common allergies and symptoms, you might find it helpful to have a little background. An allergy is a specific reaction of the body's immune system to a normally harmless substance, one that does not bother most people. Those people who find themselves dealing with allergies will often find they are sensitive to more than one substance.
There are many types of allergies. The most common are seasonal allergies which result from certain trees, plants, or pollens (birch trees, ragweed, rye grass and timothy grass) in the air at certain times of the year. Approximately 35 million Americans are allergic to pollen (also commonly referred to as hay fever). Pollen is a powder made by flowering plants and trees. Though most people tend to think of pollen season as spring, pollen grains can be in the air in the spring, summer, and fall, depending on the type of tree, grass, or weed.
People can also be allergic to some foods, particularly peanuts, shellfish, milk, fish, wheat and soy. If you're unsure which food allergens are giving you trouble, a visit to your physician or allergist can uncover the guilty culprits. An allergist can perform tests to identify and isolate any specific sensitivity you may have, whether or not they're food related, and the severity of your sensitivities. In addition, since some allergies can be life threatening, the allergist can provide you with instructions on life saving measures to be taken in the event of a severe allergy.
Other common allergies include animal dander (animal hair, cockroach calyx), insect stings (bee venom, wasp sting), dust mites, mold spores, medications (penicillin, salicylates, local anesthetics, sulfonamides), even latex rubber.
Symptoms of allergies are classified by degree of severity, including mild, moderate, and severe allergic reactions. Most people experience relatively mild symptoms, such as watery eyes, itchy skin, a runny nose, coughing, and hives. These types of allergy symptoms can usually be controlled by using an antihistamine. There are several over the counter antihistamines, as well as others you can only get with a prescription. You may also want to consider getting an allergy shot.
For other sufferers, the allergic reaction is moderate. In these cases, the reaction spreads to other parts of the body. For instance, you may experience difficulty breathing. Antihistamines, steroids, and immunotherapy can all held remedy the effects.
While very rare, severe allergic reactions do exist. Generally these are the result of food allergies. Peanuts, milk, and eggs are the most common. Symptoms include swelling of the face, abdominal pain, cramps, hives, and angioedema, which are hives inside the throat. Immediate medical attention is generally required for symptoms of a severe allergic reaction. Often a shot can help offset the reaction.
While there is no cure, common allergy symptoms (inflammation, rashes, hives, etc.) can be treated. The best treatment of all, of course, is simply to avoid those factors that trigger an allergy attack (easier said than done).