Allergies are one of the most common ailments throughout the United States and in many other areas of the world. For example, in the United States alone, more than 40 to 50 million Americans are affected by allergies each year, according to statistics from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. However, some of the symptoms of allergies often coincide with other conditions, such as the common cold. So, how do you know whether you actually have an allergy? And if so, how do you know what you’re actually allergic to?
An allergy begins with your immune system. While the immune system is designed to protect your body against potentially harmful invaders, sometimes it mistakes harmless substances as dangerous, creating an allergen. When your body comes into contact with one of these substances, antibodies are produced. These antibodies signal the body to produce chemicals, mainly histamine, which are normally used to help fight off an invader. Unfortunately, the release of histamine can result in a wide range of reactions, resulting in the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Symptoms of an allergy can vary in severity depending on how allergic you are to a substance. Some of the more common symptoms include runny or itchy nose, itchy skin, itch or red eyes, congestion, mild swelling and hives. More serious signs of an allergy can include tingling and swelling in the mouth, trouble breathing, extreme swelling, chest tightness, coughing and weezing.
Serious allergic reactions can result in a potentially life-threatening condition called anaphylaxis. In anaphylaxis your body starts to go into shock. This is accompanied by signs such as dizziness, rapid pulse, weak pulse, severe skin rash, vomiting, nausea and intense swelling in the mouth and airways, resulting in an inability to breathe. Anaphylaxis can kill in a very short amount of time, so seeking emergency treatment quickly is essential for survival if you suspect you are having an anaphylaxis reaction, also known as anaphylactic shock.
Your body can develop an allergy to just about anything. However, certain substances are more likely to elicit an allergic response. For example, the pollen from trees, grass and flowering plants commonly cause an allergic reaction when inhaled. Other allergens include pet dander, dust mites, molds, insect bites, foods (like wheat, milk, shellfish and peanuts), latex, perfumes and medicines like certain antibiotics.
In order to prevent a potentially serious reaction, it’s important to have your specific allergens diagnosed. This is done through three main ways. First is keeping a journal. A journal, such as a food journal, allows you to track what you’re doing or eating when you experience an allergic symptom. More exact results can be obtained through either a blood test or a skin test. A skin test involves pricking your skin with small amounts of proteins from potential allergens. A blood test examines your blood for the presence of antibodies that are matched to a specific allergen.
Natural Treatment Options
Once you know you have an allergy, there are several natural ways you can approach treatment. The most obvious choice is simply avoiding the allergen, whether it be through changing your diet, or investing in a filtration system for your home. Certain herbs may also help relieve allergies, such as stinging nettles, choline and butterbur. Talk to your local herbalist or natural health professional on how to safely use these herbs. Other alternative options include dust masks, nasal lavage (such as with a neti pot), or preventative methods like regular washing of your bedding and using a vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter.