Doctors don’t know for sure why some people get allergies or allergic asthma. However, they have identified some factors that make a person more likely to develop these conditions:
- Family history-the tendency to develop allergies may be inherited
- Exposure to air pollution
- Being exposed to certain substances in the workplace
- Exposure to secondhand smoke
- Having certain health conditions, such as respiratory infections during childhood or being over
Some allergies are easy to identify, because there is an obvious pattern of symptoms following exposure to certain substances. For example, if a person always sneezes around cats, that points to an allergy to cats.
Someone who gets a runny nose and itchy, watery eyes every spring may be allergic to pollen. A visit to the doctor’s office for a physical examination is important.
When the allergy trigger is not obvious, the doctor may recommend a specialist called an allergist who will likely do a series of skin tests to identify the allergens that are causing the problem.
Avoiding the allergen is the best way to prevent an allergy attack, but this isn’t always possible.
Someone who is allergic to pollen, for example, can’t hide in a closet during allergy season. However, there are some steps people can take to reduce their exposure to allergens.
If pet dander is the trigger, it will help to limit the areas of the home that family pets are allowed to be in.
If dust is the problem, regular cleaning will help to keep it from accumulating.
Avoiding damp areas will help if mould is the culprit.
Medications can help ease the symptoms. Some can be bought over-the-counter; others require a prescription. Allergy medicines fall into several different categories:
- Mast cell stabilizers
- Leukotriene modifiers
When medications don’t provide enough relief, a doctor may recommend immunotherapy (allergy shots) to reduce sensitivity to the allergy triggers.
Not every treatment is right for all allergy sufferers, so it is very important to discuss possible treatments with your doctor.
Sometimes the sensitivity to an allergen is so extreme that the body goes into anaphylactic shock (also known as anaphylaxis). This is a sudden, severe allergic reaction that affects various systems in the body. The result is:
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the face, throat, lips, and tongue
- Rapid drop in blood pressure
- Nausea and vomiting
If it is not treated rapidly, it may lead to death. Anaphylaxis can happen within seconds of being exposed to a triggering substance, or it might happen up to two hours later. Among the most common causes of anaphylaxis are peanuts, seafood, and insect stings.
Anaphylaxis requires immediate treatment. People who know they have severe reactions should carry medication (epinephrine) with them at all times.
The medication comes in a small syringe that may look like a pen, and it must be injected. Highly allergic people, their family members, and their friends should know how to give the injection in an emergency.
This knowledge could save a life. Medical treatment is important even after the shot is given, because a single injection is not always enough.
Your pharmacist will be happy to answer any questions you have about allergies or allergy treatments and to help you select products to ease your family’s symptoms.