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What is Allergies?

Approximately 10% of the U.S. population suffers from hay fever each year. An allergy is your body's hypersensitive reaction to a normally harmless substance. These substances, be they food, pollen, a bee sting, dust mites, or a host of others, are called allergens. In the body of an allergic person, the immune system reacts abnormally when an allergen is brought into contact or absorbed by their body. The immune system treats the allergen as a dangerous invader - the same reaction that normally help protect us from infectious diseases. As a result, your body's white blood cells produce antibodies, which , treating the substance as a harmful invader, causing the body to release histamines. Histamines in turn cause the symptoms normally associated with common allergies, such as sneezing, watery eyes, and itching - as well as potentially much worse and more hazardous responses. Allergies are one of the most common medical ailments, with over 50 million Americans affected each year. Sinus, contact dermatitis, food, and reactions to insect stings are the most common allergy types. It is estimated that each year, 100 Americans die from food-induced allergies, and another 50-100 from insect stings. Having an allergy means that your body perceives a harmless substance (the allergen) as dangerous and is mounting an internal battle to take care of it. This hypersensitive process is called an allergic reaction. What is an allergen?

An allergen is a substance that your body perceives as dangerous, but which a non-allergic person's body ignores. Common allergens are pollen, molds, dust mites, animal dander, certain foods and medications, and latex. What is the difference between an allergen and an antigen?

An antigen is a substance, usually a protein that the body perceives as foreign, which sets in motion an immune response. This is the way the body fights disease. An allergen is a specific type of antigen, which sets in motion a hypersensitive, or allergic reaction. Other types of antigens are bacteria and viruses. The difference between an allergen and other antigens is that the allergen is harmless to most people, whereas other antigens are indeed harmful. What are antibodies?

Antibodies are proteins created by your body to fight the battle against the invader (the allergen/antigen). The first time your body encounters the antigen, some antibodies are produced. With each additional exposure, more antibodies are produced. In the beginning, you may not feel any reaction. But, as more antibodies are produced, you start to experience some symptoms of an allergic reaction. How are allergies and asthma related?

Allergies can trigger an asthma attack, in which you may experience a feeling of tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing and wheezing. Having good control over your allergies can limit both the frequency and severity of asthma attacks. What is an allergic reaction?

An allergic reaction is the process your body goes through when it senses the presence of an allergen. The allergen may be ingested as food or medication, inhaled through the mouth or nose, or may come in contact with the skin. When the body senses the presence of an allergen, antibodies are produced. The antibodies attach to mast cells, which release a substance called histamine. Histamine's job is to narrow the bronchial tubes in the lungs, dilate blood vessels, and produce secretions, such as mucus. Histamine is the main substance responsible for the symptoms characteristic of an allergic reaction. Medications that inhibit the release of histamines are called antihistamines. An allergic reaction is a hypersensitive reaction to a substance to which most people do not react. Are allergies dangerous?

Most allergies are not dangerous, although they can make life miserable! The exception is anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening emergency requiring immediate medical attention. Symptoms of a mild reaction

In a mild reaction, the allergy sufferer may experience localized symptoms: rash/hives, itchy or watery eyes, and some congestion. In a mild reaction, the symptoms do not spread to other parts of the body.

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