There are hundreds, if not thousands of specific allergies that effect people across the planet. Each of those allergies can be grouped into one of four types of allergies based on the the allergen that causes the symptoms:
Environmental allergies, also called Allergic Rhinitis, are the most common and well-known and include allergies to pollens, animal dander, dust-mites, and molds. These allergens enter the body through the air that you breathe. Once the allergens enter the nose, sinuses, and lungs, the body’s immune system over-reacts and releases chemicals such as histamine that result in an allergic reaction. People with environmental allergies are at increased risk of developing asthma and eczema.
Some people experience environmental allergies only during specific seasons (seasonal allergies), while others experience them year round. Symptoms usually occur within a few minutes of exposure to an allergen and usually include sneezing, runny/stuffy nose, sinus pain, itchy/watery eyes, scratchy throat, and post nasal drip.
Although there is no cure for allergies, environmental allergies can be alleviated through medications, allergen avoidance, and allergen immunotherapy. Some people find relief through all-natural herbal remedies and acupuncture.
True food allergies only affect about 1% of adults and 2% of children older than pre-school age. Other problems such as food intolerances are often mistaken for food allergies. Food intolerances do not involve the immune system so are not potentially life-threatening the way an actual food allergy can be. An example of a true allergy vs. a food intolerance is a milk allergy vs. lactose intolerance. Some of the more well-known food allergies are to peanuts, tree nuts such as walnuts, shell-fish, milk, and eggs.
Symptoms of food allergies usually begin within an hour of eating the allergen and can include:
- Tingling, swelling and itching of the lips, mouth or throat
- Itching skin or rash such as hives
- Nausea and vomiting
Most severe symptoms include severe breathing issues and anaphylaxis. If you’re not sure whether you have a food allergy or merely a food intolerance, please see an allergy specialist.
There is a distinct difference between an allergic reaction to a medication and suffering from a side-effect. Allergic reactions are more concerning because they can lead to life-threatening anaphylaxis on future exposures. Certain types of medications such as penicillin or sulfa drugs are the more commonly associated with anaphylaxis. Unless you experience a rash or throat swelling, then a reaction to a medication is more than likely a side-effect. If you are uncertain about any reaction you experience after taking a medication, do not take the medication again until you consult your doctor.
Some people are allergic to the venom injected into them during an insect bite or sting. The more severe allergies include reactions to bee, hornet and wasp stings, and can be potentially life-threatening. Again, the most severe reactions can cause anaphylaxis, so if you experience throat tightening/itching, dizziness and trouble breathing, you need to call 911 immediately. Most people will experience a localized reaction to an insect sting that includes reddening, itching and swelling. The swelling can be dramatic if stung on the hands or face, but is normally not considered to be an allergic reaction. However, a large exposure to venom can lead to future allergic reactions to the same types of stings, so if you do have a dramatic reaction you may want to consult your allergist to be future-safe.
Latex is a natural product which comes from a fluid extracted from the rubber tree found in Africa and Southeast Asia. The number of latex allergies has risen dramatically since the early 80’s, probably because of more and more contact with this rubber product. It’s estimated that 10% to 12% of people in the medical profession have developed a latex sensitivity or allergy. The allergic trigger is typically from the trace amount of oil left on the latex product after the manufacturing process. In the medical field, though, the allergen can sometimes be introduced from the powder that lines the inside of latex gloves. The latex oil adheres to the powder, and when the glove is snapped while putting it on, the powder can enter the lungs and nasal passages.