According to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, an allergy can be; 1) an altered bodily reaction to an antigen, or 2) an exaggerated or pathological reaction to substances or situations. This definition is slightly abridged for the sake of this article however this is a fairly good description. What we generally call allergies; runny noses, sneezes or skin reactions are only symptoms of an allergy not the actual allergy itself.
What is an allergy is probably best answered as the body’s way of fighting against something it doesn’t like being exposed to. The reaction causes an inflammation of tissues in the body. This inflammation then shows up as a variety of symptoms.
Apparently over 50 million people suffer from allergies; this can be from relatively mild symptoms to deadly ones such as anaphylaxis (complete shutting down of the respiratory system). Many people with asthma have allergy and their symptoms are related to their ability to breathe. Some people have topical allergies and in reaction have skin problems such as eczema, rashes and hives. Still others exhibit behavioral changes when exposed to allergens and become aggressive or depressed. Other symptoms can be headaches, itching, overwhelming sleepiness and swelling. A percentage of people with allergy have life threatening reactions to their allergens and must carry medication (such as an Epi-pen) to combat the initial response.
There are a number of theories regarding allergies and why they seem to be getting more prevalent during the past decade. One theory is that allergies have a genetic component; meaning that if your mom and dad had them so will you. In another theory the use of corn sweeteners has compromised our immune systems making us more susceptible to other allergens. Some people think that an increase in environmental toxins has overloaded our bodies making them more sensitive and still another believes that a lack of intestinal parasites might be to blame.
What ever the underlying cause allergy have become a major medical issue in the world today. Since the symptoms don’t necessarily reflect what someone is allergic to it can be extremely difficult to determine the cause of the problem. There are several ways to test for allergies, they all have their problems and limitations and can be time consuming, painful and costly. The generally most common is the “scratch test” this is done in a doctor’s office and takes a number of known allergens and injects them just under or at skin level then waiting for an inflammatory response. Another test studies the saliva or the blood of an allergic person by mixing the saliva or blood with allergens and determining what they react to. Still another test used to determine food allergies is to eliminate all suspected allergens from the diet, then slowly, one at a time, reintroduce them back into the diet and note reactions.
If you think you have allergy it is a good idea to contact a health care professional to discuss the issue and find out for sure. You can also do the elimination diet on your own. There are many ways to fight and overcome most allergies.