Healthy Living

Allergies: Symptoms, Causes and Risk Factors

What Causes Allergies and Allergy Symptoms?

Key Takeaways

  • An allergy is a body’s immune system response to a foreign substance that has come in contact with the body.
  • Allergies can lead to symptoms such as runny nose, stuffy nose, having trouble breathing, skin rashes, nasal congestion, and asthma.
  • The foreign bodies that cause an allergy are known as allergens.

What are Allergies?

An allergy is basically a disorder of the immune system response that leads to certain symptoms, such as coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, and a runny nose. When the immune system reacts to a foreign substance, such as dust mites, pollen, pet dander, bee venom, or any kind of food, then it leads to allergies.

The body is known to produce proteins that are called antibodies. When there is a foreign substance that comes in contact with the person’s body, then the immune system starts to make antibodies, which identify these foreign bodies as a harmful bacteria or pathogen, even though it may not be dangerous. These foreign substances are called allergens. The immune system quickly reacts by causing inflammation in the skin, sinuses, digestive system, and/or the airways.

Allergies are not common to everyone, but it is said that every person has some kind of allergy. The allergy severity would vary from person to person. Also, the symptoms can be a mild or minor form of irritation, and in other cases, it would turn out to be life-threatening. Most of the allergies cannot be cured completely; however, there are various treatments, both conventional and home remedies, available to provide relief from symptoms caused by an allergy.

Symptoms of Allergies

The symptoms of an allergy would vary from person to person, and they also depend on the substance that is involved that impacts the nasal passages, skin, airways, and sinuses. The reaction to allergies can range from mild to severe. When the symptoms become severe, there can be a possibility of a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis.

Below are a few of the symptoms as per the involvement of the various types of allergens:

  • Food allergies can lead to symptoms such as hives, tingling sensation in the mouth, anaphylaxis, and swelling of the throat, lips, face, and tongue.
  • Hay fever, which is also known as allergic rhinitis, can lead to symptoms such as stuffy nose, sneezing frequently, runny nose, red or bloodshot eyes, watery and swollen eyes similar to conjunctivitis, and itching sensation of the nose, roof of the mouth, and eyes.
  • An allergy caused by a drug would have symptoms such as rashes on the skin, anaphylaxis, itchy skin, swelling of the face, hives, and wheezy breathing.
  • An allergy due to the sting of an insect would cause symptoms such as hives all over the body, a state of edema wherein there is swelling in a large area of the affected site, pain or tightness in the chest, irregular breathing, and anaphylaxis.

Causes of Allergies

Allergies can be caused by various substances around us. Allergens are generally harmless substances that the body mistakes as a pathogen or virus. There are some allergies that are seasonal in nature, and there are some that may always be around, irrespective of the season.

Some of the allergies can be mild in nature and would go away in some days by taking care of the surroundings and some home remedies, whereas some of the allergies can be threatening to life and would need traditional treatment options in a timely manner.

Below are the various causes of allergies; these can also be differentiated as types of allergies:

  • Food Allergy: An allergy to food would happen when the body’s immune system reacts to a certain type of food and sees it as a harmful substance that would attack the body and thus causes allergic reactions. The foods that lead to an allergy are called allergens. There are a variety of food items which could lead to allergic reactions.
    • IgE mediated or Immunoglobulin E mediated: The immune system of our body creates antibodies that are called Immunoglobulin E or IgE. These IgE antibodies tend to cause reactions to certain types of food items, thus leading to various symptoms. There are eight common foods that are known to cause food allergies across many individuals. Foods such as milk, peanuts, eggs, wheat, shellfish, soy, fish, and tree nuts are the causes of concern.
    • Non-IgE mediated: There are other parts of the body’s immune system that also tend to show some reaction to certain kinds of food. Due to this reaction of the immune system, there are various symptoms. However, in this case, there is no involvement of the IgE antibodies. In certain cases, though rare, individuals would have both the IgE mediated and the non-IgE mediated allergies.

One should not confuse food allergies with food intolerance. Not everyone who shows signs of a reaction to certain types of food would be allergic to that substance. For example, certain individuals would be lactose intolerant, sensitive to sulfite, or gluten intolerant. When it comes to the issue of food tolerance, there is no involvement of the immune system.

  • Drug or Medication Allergy: A drug allergy is also called a medicine allergy, and in the majority of cases when the immune system reacts to any medicines, then it can also be termed an “adverse drug reaction.” The true form of drug or medicine allergies are quite rare and mostly caused by the immune system. Those individuals who suffer from a drug allergy have an immune system that is overly sensitive; hence, the immune system reacts to the drug as if it was an invader and trying to harm the body.
    The causes of an adverse drug reaction would be categorized into two, including:
    • i) True allergic reaction - wherein the immune system and IgE are involved. A small percentage of people are known to be impacted in this category.
    • ii) Non allergic reaction - In this category, the reactions do not involve any kind of immune reaction to the drug. 

         If an individual feels that he may be allergic to a particular type of drug, then he would need to inform the doctor immediately. The doctor can                        recommend a visit to an allergist, who is a doctor who specializes in allergies. The allergy tests would only be useful for an individual who has a                      true allergic reaction. The doctor would conduct certain physical examinations, check your medical history, the symptoms, and any tests to be carried              out for confirmation of the drug reaction.

  • Latex Allergy: Latex is a term that is used to refer to the protein in the sap of the Brazilian rubber tree. Latex is also known as a natural rubber product, which is made from sap. Latex is a product used in everyday items, such as bandages, balloons, condoms, rubber bands, balls made from rubber, household gloves made from rubber, and many more. If there is any kind of contact with these products, then it can lead to an allergic reaction.Some individuals would have an allergic reaction by just breathing in the latex fiber that is present in the air, and in certain cases, some of the individuals would have an allergic reaction by skin contact with latex. One should note that any contact with synthetic latex does not lead to any kind of allergic reaction, since it is not made from the sap of the Brazilian tree. One may term it as latex allergy, but not all kinds of reactions to latex are due to having a true allergy.
    Those having latex allergies have an immune system that is overly sensitive to latex in any form. If the doctor needs to confirm the latex allergy, then he would ask for a blood test and also check the medical history of the individual, along with reviewing the symptoms. The best way to avoid a latex allergic reaction is to stay away from any latex item. While purchasing or using any products, ensure to check the label to verify that the item does not contain latex in any form.
  • Pollen Allergy: A pollen allergy is a seasonal allergy, and it is a very common form of allergy among many individuals. A pollen allergy is also known as hay fever, or it is also referred to as seasonal allergic rhinitis. Every spring or winter season, the trees or plants are known to release pollen to fertilize the other plants. Most of the pollen that is known to cause allergies is released from trees, weeds, grass, and plants.
    Grasses are known to be one of the most common causes of allergy. When it comes to weed allergies, ragweed is the most common among them. Apart from these, the other common sources of pollen allergy would include tumbleweed, pigweed, or sagebrush. The symptoms pertaining to pollen allergies are runny nose, sneezing, watery and red eyes, eye swelling, production of mucus from the nose, and nasal congestion. To prevent a pollen allergic reaction, one would need to limit going out during the pollen season and keep the windows closed. Ensure to bathe properly before going to bed. Once you are indoors after being outside, clean yourself properly and change clothing.
  • Insect Allergy: When the weather is warm, it leads to some unwanted guests in the form of insects at home. It could be stinging bees or any other biting insects. It is not necessary that a biting or a stinging insect cause an allergy. There are other non-biting and non-stinging insects that could also cause allergic reactions, including cockroaches, and dust mites can lead to a year-round allergy and asthma in severe cases. The symptoms pertaining to an insect allergy are swelling of the lips, face, and tongue, rashes on the skin, leading to an itching sensation, fainting, or dizziness, having trouble while breathing, pain in the stomach, and wheezing while breathing.
  • Pet Allergy: It is quite common to have an allergy caused by the fur of a pet. This is especially common among those who have other kinds of allergies or have asthma. People can be allergic to dog fur or the fur of cats, as well. Those who have a dog allergy would be very sensitive to certain breeds of dogs, rather than the other types, and in some cases, certain individuals would be allergic to fur of all types of dogs.
    Those who have an allergy toward pets have an overly sensitive immune system, and the immune system can react to a harmless protein that is found in the pet's urine, saliva, or dead skin cells. The pet allergens can be found in all places where they are available, such as the surfaces of the furniture and carpet. Pet hair is not an allergen, although it is known to carry dead skin cells, saliva, urine, and other types of allergens, such as pollen, dust mites, or any dead insects. If diagnosed with a pet allergy, then the best treatment would be to stay away from the area where there are dogs and cats. Another treatment option would be to choose those pets who have no fur or feathers on their bodies, such as turtles, fish, etc.
  • Mold Allergy: If an individual has an allergy that usually occurs over the various seasons, then it can be linked to an allergy of the spores of mold or any other type of fungus. Molds are everywhere, and when you tend to upset the source of the mold, then it can send spores in the air. When some people inhale the spores, it leads to an allergic reaction, as the immune system is overly sensitive.
    There are different types of mold; however, only a few of them cause mold allergic reactions. The mold spores are known to enter the nose passage and lead to allergic symptoms, and in some cases, it can also enter the lungs and lead to asthma. The only way of treating mold spores is to limit going outside when the counts are high and always ensure to wear a mask and gloves while working on cutting grass or digging around plants.

Risk Factors of Allergies

  • Genetic: If the parent had an allergy, then the same may be passed on to the child, and the allergy is likely to be very severe.
  • Environment: Those individuals who live in a highly industrialized place are likely to suffer more from allergies. Allergies are known to be common in those who stay in urban areas.
  • Asthma or any other reaction: Those who have asthma are at an increased risk of getting an allergic reaction. Also, if there is one type of allergic reaction, then there are chances the person would have another type of allergic reaction, as well.