Allergies: The Basics

Allergies are negative reactions that occur as a result of coming into contact with a normally harmless substance. These substances, or allergens, are inhaled, injected, ingested or even simply touched.

Symptoms

Allergy symptoms often go unrecognised. You may falsely believe you have a cold or the flu. While the symptoms are similar, allergies can be differentiated. Common symptoms include sneezing, stuffy nose and itchy, watery eyes.

Risk Factors

Allergies can develop at any age. People who are most susceptible include those under age 40 and have at least one parent with allergies. Allergies can also change or disappear over time, while others recur at the same time each year and last for a few weeks or months.

Prevention

Allergists can perform skin tests to determine which substances are causing the skin to have an adverse reaction. Avoiding those allergens can help alleviate some symptoms, as can these preventive measures:

  • Stay indoors on days when pollen counts are high (hayfever).
  • Keep your home clean and as dust-free as possible.
  • Ask your allergist about the benefits of a home air purifier.
  • Put pillows and mattresses in allergen-proof encasements.
  • Use a vacuum cleaner with double bags or allergen-trapping bags.
  • Try not to have dogs and cats in your home if you are allergic to pet dander.
  • Choose hardwood floors with washable scatter rugs rather than wall-to-wall carpeting.
Allergy Treatment

Treatment for most allergies is available over-the-counter and by prescription. Your doctor may suggest several treatment methods:

  • Antihistamine medications work by blocking the effects of histamines, the chemicals that cause many allergy symptoms. However, antihistamines may also cause drowsiness.
  • Nasal sprays are often recommended to reduce nasal inflammation, congestion, sneezing and runny nose.
  • Decongestants help dry up nasal passages and reduce the swelling that causes stuffiness.

If your allergy symptoms are severe or chronic, you may need a series of allergy shots. Contact your doctor or allergist to determine which treatment option is best suited for your particular allergy symptoms.

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