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Understanding common symptoms and causes.

Allergic Reactions

What are allergic reactions?

An allergic reaction may occur anywhere in the body, in the skin, eyes, lining of the stomach, nose, sinuses, throat, and lungs—places where immune system cells are located to fight off invaders that are inhaled, swallowed, or come in contact with the skin. Reactions may result in:

  • Rhinitis (nasal stuffiness, sneezing, nasal itching, nasal discharge, itching in ears or roof of mouth)
  • Allergic conjunctivitis (red, itchy, watery eyes)
  • Atopic dermatitis (red, itchy, dry skin)
  • Urticaria (hives or itchy welts)
  • Contact dermatitis (itchy rash)
  • Asthma (airway problems such as shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing)

What causes allergic reactions?
Although hundreds of ordinary substances could trigger allergic reactions, the most common triggers—called allergens—include:

  • Pollens
  • Molds
  • Household dust, dust mites and their waste
  • Animal protein (dander, urine, oil from skin)
  • Industrial chemicals
  • Foods
  • Medicines
  • Feathers
  • Insect stings
  • Cockroaches and their waste

Who is affected by allergy?
Allergies can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or socioeconomic status. Generally, allergies are more common in children. However, a first-time occurrence can happen at any age, or recur after many years of remission.

There's a tendency for allergies to occur in families, although the exact genetic factors that cause it aren't yet understood. In susceptible people, factors such as hormones, stress, smoke, perfume, or other environmental irritants may also play a role. Often, the symptoms of allergies develop gradually over a period of time.

Allergy sufferers may become so accustomed to chronic symptoms such as sneezing, nasal congestion, or wheezing, that they don't consider their symptoms to be unusual. Yet, with the help of an allergist, these symptoms can usually be prevented or controlled and quality of life greatly improved.