What’s an allergic reaction?
Allergic reactions happen when your immune system overreacts to something that comes into contact with your body. The immune system, your body’s defense against infection, mistakenly treats substances called allergens as a threat and tries to get rid of them by producing antibodies to fight the allergen. Allergens can be breathed into the lungs, swallowed or even injected.

Is there a cure for allergies?
While there is no specific cure to allergies, you can prevent exposure to your allergens and promptly take allergy medication when needed. You can also talk to your doctor about immunotherapy such as allergy shots, tablets or drops. They might not cure your allergies completely, but they can significantly reduce your allergic reactions.

What happens during an allergic reaction?
Your body’s reaction to an allergen causes the release of histamines and other body chemicals, causing the symptoms of an allergic reaction. Then, your system raises its defenses every time it detects the allergen, resulting in an allergic reaction, such as runny nose, itchy and watery eyes, sneezing, and swelling. Once a person has had an exposure or an allergic reaction, even a limited exposure to a very small amount of allergen can trigger a reaction.

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Who can get allergies?
Really anyone can get allergies. However, we have learned that genetics and the environment affect whether or not someone develops allergies. You can inherit the likelihood that you will develop allergies.

For example, people who are likely to develop allergies have an inherited condition known as atopy, the genetic tendency to develop allergic diseases. But it’s still unknown why people develop allergies to food, although they often have other allergic conditions, such as asthma, hay fever and eczema. Environmental factors can include things such as pollution, epidemic diseases and diet. Millions of Americans suffer from allergies. Allergies often begin in childhood, but can develop or re-emerge later in life.

What are common allergens?
Many things can trigger allergies. The most common are pollen, dust mites, mold, animal dander, insect stings, latex, and certain food and medications.

According to WebMD, the following eight things cause about 90% of food allergy reactions:

  • Milk (mostly in children)
  • Eggs.
  • Peanuts.
  • Tree nuts, like walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, Brazil nuts and pecans.
  • Soy.
  • Wheat and other grains with gluten, including barley, rye and oats.
  • Fish (mostly in adults)
  • Shellfish (mostly in adults)

What are symptoms of an allergic reaction?
Reactions to allergens range from runny nose, itchy eyes, allergic asthma and sneezing to hives and life-threatening anaphylaxis. If you think someone has the symptoms of anaphylaxis – such as sudden onset of breathing difficulties, lightheadedness, and feeling like they’re going to faint or lose consciousness – get emergency help right away. If the person has emergency allergy medicine on hand, help the person inject the medicine.

What’s the difference between a food intolerance and a food allergy?
People with food intolerance may have symptoms such as diarrhea, bloating and stomach cramps. This may be caused by difficulties digesting certain substances, such as lactose. However, this is not an allergic reaction.

Here’s how to prevent allergic reactions:

  • Avoid triggers such as foods and medicines that have caused an allergic reaction in the past. Ask detailed questions about ingredients when you are eating away from home. Carefully check ingredient labels.
  • If you have a child who is allergic to certain foods, introduce 1 new food at a time in small amounts so you can recognize an allergic reaction.
  • People who have had serious allergic reactions should wear a medical ID tag and carry emergency medicines according to their health care provider’s instructions.

Be well, stay well~
Pharmacist Andy

Andy Stergachis, Ph.D., R.Ph. is the Director of the Global Medicines Program at the University of Washington in Seattle and a subject expert on public health and pharmacy-related topics.