Allergies

According to kidshealth.org, up to 50 million Americans, including millions of kids, have some type of allergy. In fact, allergies cause about 2 million missed school days each year.

Allergies are abnormal immune system reactions to things that are typically harmless to most people. When a person is allergic to something, the immune system mistakenly believes that this substance is harming the body.

What Causes Allergies?

Common Airborne Allergens

Some of the most common things people are allergic to are airborne (carried through the air):

  • Dust mites 
  • Pollen 
  • Molds 
  • Pet dander 
  • Cockroach saliva and feces

Common Food Allergens

Up to 2 million, or 8%, of kids in the United States are affected by food allergies.

Eight foods account for most of those: cow’s milk, eggs, fish and shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts, soy, and wheat.

Other Common Allergens

  • Insect allergy
  • Medications
  • Chemicals

Symptoms of Allergies

Allergy symptoms, which depend on the substance involved, can affect your airways, sinuses and nasal passages, skin, and digestive system. Allergic reactions can range from mild to severe. In some severe cases, allergies can trigger a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.

  • Hay fever, also called allergic rhinitis, can cause sneezing, itching of the nose, eyes or roof of the mouth, runny, stuffy nose, watery, red or swollen eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • A food allergy can cause tingling in the mouth, swelling of the lips, tongue, face or throat, hives, or anaphylaxis.
  • An insect sting allergy can cause a large area of swelling (edema) at the sting site, Itching or hives all over the body, cough, chest tightness, wheezing or shortness of breath or anaphylaxis.
  • A medication allergy can cause hives, itchy skin, rash, facial swelling, wheezing, or anaphylaxis.
  • Atopic dermatitis, an allergic skin condition also called eczema, can cause skin to itch, redden, flake or peel.

Anaphylaxis

Some types of allergies, including allergies to foods and insect stings, can trigger a severe reaction known as anaphylaxis. A life-threatening medical emergency, anaphylaxis can cause you to go into shock.

Signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • A drop in blood pressure
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Skin rash
  • Lightheadedness
  • A rapid, weak pulse
  • Nausea and vomiting

How Are Allergies Diagnosed?

Your doctor can diagnose allergies in several ways.

First, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and perform a physical exam. They will ask about anything unusual you may have eaten recently and any substances you may have come in contact with. For example, if you have a rash on your hands, your doctor may ask if you put on latex gloves recently.

Lastly, a blood test and skin test can confirm or diagnose allergens your doctor suspects you have.

Treatments for Allergies

In general, there is no cure for allergies. The best way to avoid allergies is to stay away from whatever triggers the reaction. If that’s not possible, there are treatment options available.

Medication

Allergy treatment often includes medications like antihistamines to control symptoms. What your doctor recommends depends on the severity of your allergies.

Allergy medications include:

  • antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  • corticosteroids
  • cetirizine (Zyrtec)
  • loratadine (Claritin)
  • cromolyn sodium (Gastrocrom)
  • decongestants (Afrin, Suphedrine PE, Sudafed)
  • leukotriene modifiers (Singulair, Zyflo)

Singulair should only be prescribed if there are no other suitable treatment options. This is because it increases your risk of serious behavioral and mood changes, such as suicidal thoughts and actions.

Immunotherapy

For severe allergies or allergies not completely relieved by other treatment, your doctor might recommend allergen immunotherapy. This treatment involves a series of injections of purified allergen extracts, usually given over a period of a few years.

Another form of immunotherapy is a tablet that’s placed under the tongue (sublingual) until it dissolves. Sublingual medications are used to treat some pollen allergies.

Emergency epinephrine

If you have a severe allergy, you might need to carry an emergency epinephrine shot at all times.

Given for severe allergic reactions, an epinephrine shot (Auvi-Q, EpiPen, EpiPen Junior, Allerject, Emerade, others) can reduce symptoms until you get emergency treatment.

Notice: The above information is an educational aid only. Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.