As spring bursts into all her glory, many of us can’t leave the house without a tissue box. Allergies can be caused by a variety of triggers, from pets to food, and while many are mild, some can be extremely dangerous. Before your eyes itch and your nose drips, plan a visit to your New Jersey allergist to get control of this inflammation.
What Is an Allergy
The only people who don’t have an allergic response to something are those with no immune system at all. An allergic response to airborne particles occurs when your immune system reacts to something that isn’t a danger, such as pollen, or pet dander, as though it was dangerous. That immune response can cause swelling, inflammation, itching and general misery.
Food allergies can run the gamut and cause anything from swollen lips to a closed airway. Many food allergens cause vomiting, while others create so much stomach pain that people avoid the trigger assiduously. Sadly, there are food allergies that can cause anaphylaxis, shortness of breath, and death.
If one of your parents suffered from allergies or allergic asthma, you are likely to develop the condition. The production of IgE, or immunoglobulin E is the antibody that goes to battle when you’re exposed to your particular allergen(s). The level of IgE production is critically important.
For example, two children in the same family may be at risk of peanut allergy, which can be severe enough to cause death from anaphylaxis. One parent may be able to eat peanut butter and consider giving the children peanut butter to build up a tolerance. This is a dangerous error.
Allergic responses don’t necessarily follow an “if-then” reaction process. If you’re allergic to honey and have just a taste of something before you realize what was used to sweeten the product, your immune system may only produce a small trigger and you may feel physically fine. You may take this as a sign that you can build up a tolerance to the product. However, your next reaction to the same amount could be dangerous or severe because
- the immune system is primed to act, and
- your body may be under different stressors at the next exposure
When Do Allergies Become Dangerous?
Allergies such as hay fever may be miserable, but for many sufferers they’re simply part of the season. If you’re allergic to a particular pollen, you have to take medications when that plant is blooming.
Allergies become dangerous when they trigger a long-term reaction and condition that impacts your ability to breathe, eat and sleep. For example, seasonal allergies are a temporary condition that wane as the weather changes and may be impacted by your physical location.
If your allergies lead to an allergic asthma reaction, the lung inflammation could turn into a dangerous flare-up and cause a long-term condition that can restrict your breathing over a lifetime.
Do Allergies Get Worse Over Time?
If you’ve had a bad allergic reaction to a particular food, such as shrimp or honey, you may be concerned that the next reaction can be worse. The truth is that an increase in the severity of your reaction is actually unknown.
The immune reaction to some triggers, such as bee stings, can appear to become more dangerous over time. For those allergic to bug bites, carrying an epi-pen is critically important to managing your physical reaction before your airway is impacted.
Can You Outgrow Allergies?
There are many food allergies, such as milk and eggs, that children outgrow as they age. However, food allergies to tree nuts often stay with the person for a lifetime. For nasal allergies, the shape of the face and sinus cavities can be the difference between a mild allergic response and a painful bout of sinus pressure.
As a child grows, the sinus cavities may change shape and lead to increased or decreased drainage. As mucus is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, untreated nasal allergies can actually lead to serious, chronic conditions such as frequent sinus infections.
It should be noted that you can also grow into allergies. If you’re struggling with itchy eyes and a drippy nose in April and you’ve never had that happen before, schedule an appointment with your physician to see if you’re newly allergic to pollen. Medicating now is much easier than dealing with sinus infections in the heat of summer.
Stress Levels Can Make Things Worse
Stress is exhausting. It makes us grumpy, raises our blood pressure and causes us to have a bad attitude. It can also make your allergy symptoms worse.
From a distance, this makes sense. Both mental and physical stress get your immune system all fired up. It knows that you’re in trouble, even if it can’t discern why you’re at risk. Add a bit of pet dander, a peanut, or some ragweed into the mix, and your body goes into full alarm mode.
If you work in the financial industry and find that your seasonal allergies are much worse in the spring than in the fall, it could be because of the type of pollen you’re exposed to in May as opposed to October. It could also be that you’re working more hours in the spring, exhausted and under pressure at home.
Finally, being stressed out is not at all helpful when your nose is running and your eyes itch. Stress compounds the misery of allergies of all forms and may increase the severity of your reaction.
For those allergic to coconut trees, not living in the southern United States is a good plan. If you’re allergic to dust mites, consider moving to a higher elevation; humidity is a big contributor to concentrations of dust mites. Moving to the desert southwest used to be considered the way to cure allergies, but this has backfired in a couple of ways.
Firstly, many folks who moved into the area brought their favorite plants with them, which transferred the old pollen problem to a new home. Secondly, people who are prone to an allergic response often develop an allergy to something in their new environment after a time. You may feel great in your new home initially, but your immune system will find something to react to shortly.
Genetics have a lot to do with the risk of an immune response. High levels of stress can lead to a more severe reaction. Repeated exposure can increase the intensity of a reaction, though this is not always consistent. You can’t build up a tolerance for an allergen, but you can get the treatment you need to reduce your sensitivity.
Contact your allergist for a conversation about getting your immune reactions under control.