The symptoms can range from sneezing, itching, runny nose, skin rashes, or hives, and can even lead to life-threatening anaphylaxis in severe cases. It is important to diagnose and manage allergy disorders effectively through a combination of medication, allergen avoidance, and immunotherapy when necessary.
If left untreated, allergy disorders can worsen over time and can result in dangerous health complications.
What is the immune system?
The immune system is a sophisticated network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect the body against dangerous invaders including bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens.
It is the immune system’s job to recognize these foreign substances, destroy them, and be able to distinguish them from the body’s own healthy cells.
Allergies develop when the immune system interprets a harmless allergen as a possible intruder and begins to produce antibodies against it, causing a cascade of events that lead to allergy symptoms.
How do allergies develop?
Allergies are a hypersensitive immune response to a seemingly harmless substance in the environment, called an allergen. Allergens can include things like pollen, dust mites, pet dander, certain foods, or medications.
When an allergy-prone person comes in contact with an allergen, their immune system overreacts and releases histamine and other chemicals that cause allergic
If you have allergies, the first time you encounter a specific allergen, your body responds by producing immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. These antibodies then attach themselves to mast cells, which are found in tissues throughout the body.
The next time the person encounters that allergen, it binds with the IgE antibodies on their mast cells and triggers the release of histamine and other chemicals, leading to allergy symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, itching, and more severe reactions like anaphylaxis in some cases.
Allergies typically develop early in life, although they can emerge at any time. Allergies can develop due to genetic factors, exposure to allergens at a young age, poor air quality or pollution, and other environmental factors.
A weakened immune system or certain medical conditions can also increase the likelihood of developing allergies. Common allergy triggers include seasonal changes, humidity in the air or water, and high levels of pollution.
What are the symptoms of allergy?
The symptoms of an allergy differ from person to person. Common symptoms include:
- Runny nose
- Red, watery eyes
- Itching around the nose, mouth, or eyes
If left untreated, these symptoms can lead to nasal congestion, headache, sore throat, and other issues.
Allergy symptoms can also be very serious and life-threatening, leading to anaphylaxis. Symptoms that may require immediate medical care include:
- Skin: itching, redness, swelling, and hives
- Mouth: itching, swelling of lips and tongue
- Stomach: vomiting, diarrhea, cramps
- Respiratory: shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, chest pain, and/or tightness
- Heart: weak pulse, dizziness, faintness
- Headache, nasal congestion, watery eyes, sweating
- Confusion, a feeling of impending doom
- Loss of consciousness
What are the common types of allergic disorders?
Allergic disorders can manifest in various forms, each with its unique symptoms and triggers. The most common allergic disorders include:
Hay fever (Allergic Rhinitis)
Hay fever is a common allergic disorder that affects the nose and eyes. The condition occurs when the immune system overreacts to airborne allergens such as pollen, dust mites, and pet dander. The symptoms of hay fever include sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, and nasal congestion.
Asthma is a chronic lung disease that occurs when the airways become inflamed and narrow, making it difficult to breathe. Asthma can be triggered by various factors, including allergens, exercise, stress, and respiratory infections. The symptoms of asthma include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath.
Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema)
Atopic dermatitis, commonly known as eczema, is a chronic skin condition that causes red, itchy, and inflamed skin. The condition often starts in childhood and can be triggered by various factors, including allergens, stress, and irritants such as soap and detergents.
Food allergies occur when the immune system overreacts to specific proteins found in certain foods. The symptoms of food allergies can range from mild to severe and can include hives, swelling, and difficulty breathing. Common food allergens include peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish.
Anaphylaxis is a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that occurs when the immune system releases a large amount of histamine and other inflammatory chemicals.
Anaphylaxis can be triggered by various allergens, including insect stings, medications, and food. The symptoms of anaphylaxis can include difficulty breathing, swelling of the face and throat, rapid heartbeat, and loss of consciousness.
What are the causes of developing allergic disorders?
The causes of allergic disorders are not fully understood, but several factors can contribute to the development of these conditions. These factors include genetics, environmental factors, and lifestyle factors such as diet and hygiene (Catalogna et al., 2021).
Research has shown that genetics plays a significant role in the development of allergic disorders. Individuals with a family history of allergies are more likely to develop allergic disorders than those without a family history.
It is thought that specific genes increase an individual’s susceptibility to allergies by altering their immune system’s response to allergens.
Environmental factors such as pollution, climate change, and exposure to allergens can also contribute to the development of allergic disorders. For example, individuals who live in areas with high levels of air pollution are more likely to develop asthma and other respiratory allergies.
Similarly, exposure to allergens such as pollen, dust mites, and animal dander can trigger allergic reactions in susceptible individuals.
Lifestyle factors such as diet and hygiene can also contribute to the development of allergic disorders. For example, a high intake of processed foods and a lack of exposure to natural environmental factors can weaken the immune system’s ability to distinguish between harmful and harmless substances, increasing the likelihood of developing allergies. (Catalogna et al., 2021)
What are the risk factors for developing allergies?
- Family history of allergies
- Being exposed to allergens at an early age
- Living in highly polluted areas
- Weakened immune system
- Certain health conditions
- A diet high in processed foods
How common are allergy disorders?
Allergy disorders are quite common, affecting millions of people worldwide. The prevalence of allergies has been increasing in recent years, with some experts attributing this trend to factors such as pollution, climate change, and evolving dietary habits.
According to the World Allergy Organization, the prevalence of allergic disorders has increased by 50% over the past decade, and it is estimated that by 2050, half of the global population will be affected by some form of allergy. (Ahire et al., 2016)
Common allergens include:
- Dust and dust mites
- Animal dander
- Insect stings (wasp, bee)
- Sulfite (sulphur-based compounds added to food as an enhancer and preservative).
- Any substance that causes an inflammatory reaction when in contact with skin (contact allergens).
How is the condition diagnosed?
Allergic disorders are typically diagnosed through a combination of medical history, physical examination, and diagnostic tests such as skin prick testing, patch testing, or blood tests that measure specific allergy-related antibodies.
In some cases, allergy challenge testing may be used to confirm a suspected allergic reaction.
How is the condition treated?
Treatment of allergy disorders can involve a combination of strategies, including avoiding allergens when possible, taking medications, such as antihistamines and corticosteroids, immunotherapy, and emergency interventions like epinephrine for severe reactions. (Smolnikov et al., 2021)
- Avoidance: The most effective way to manage allergies is to avoid the allergen that triggers the allergic reaction.
- Medications: Medications can be used to relieve the symptoms of allergies, such as antihistamines to reduce itching and sneezing, decongestants to reduce nasal congestion, and nasal corticosteroids to reduce inflammation in the nasal passages.
- Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, can be used to treat severe allergies by gradually desensitizing the immune system to the allergen. This involves receiving regular injections of the allergen over a period of time.
- Emergency medication: For severe allergies, such as anaphylaxis, emergency medication may be necessary, such as epinephrine (adrenaline) to counteract the allergic reaction; for these reactions, you should seek immediate medical attention at the nearest emergency department.
- Alternative therapies: Some people find relief from allergy symptoms with alternative therapies such as acupuncture, herbal remedies, or nasal irrigation.
At the Wilderman Medical Clinic, our allergy clinic specializes in the diagnosis and management of food, environmental, and contact allergies, and allergy to certain medications.
We offer the following tests and treatments for allergies:
Testing for allergies:
Skin Prick Testing – It is one of the most common diagnostic methods used by allergists to confirm allergies. The test involves placing a small amount of the suspected allergen on the skin, usually on the forearm or back, and then pricking the skin with a small needle or lancet to allow the allergen to penetrate the surface of the skin.
If a person is allergic to the substance, the skin around the prick site will become red, itchy, and swollen within 15-20 minutes.
A healthcare professional will measure the size of the reaction and use that information to determine the severity of the allergy.
Skin prick tests are generally safe and well-tolerated, but in rare cases, they can cause a severe allergic reaction. Skin testing is efficient, and inexpensive and is often the first test suggested when an allergy is suspected.
*Please note that the results of this test should only be interpreted by an allergy specialist, as positive reactions are not necessarily indicative of an allergy.
Blood testing – Blood tests are suggested in cases where patients suffer from widespread skin conditions, or are taking medication that makes skin testing impractical.
In this instance, a blood sample is acquired from the patient after sequential exposure to potential allergens and is analyzed for elevated levels of IgE antibodies.
Tests can determine not only the severity of an allergy but can also help predict future symptom development.
There are two types of blood testing:
IgE-specific blood tests: These tests measure the level of IgE antibodies in the blood. IgE is an antibody produced by the immune system in response to an allergen. If a person is allergic to a specific allergen, their blood will contain high levels of IgE antibodies to that allergen.
Component-resolved diagnostic (CRD) blood tests: These tests are more advanced and can identify which specific proteins in an allergen a person is allergic to. This can help identify cross-reactivity or determine the severity of the allergy.
Patch Testing – Patch testing identifies contact allergens (allergens that induce inflammatory responses via direct contact with the skin). Patch testing involves placing a small quantity of a potential contact allergen on the skin, and then covering it with an adhesive patch.
After 48-72-96 hours, the patient’s skin is examined for a hypersensitivity reaction.
We offer the following tests: North American Comprehensive panel, Corticosteroid panel, Metal panel, Cosmetics panel, and COVID-19 vaccine test
Immunotherapy treatment for allergies
Immunotherapy is an effective treatment option for allergies. However, it is important to note that immunotherapy only applies to environmental allergies. Food allergies and contact allergies are treated by avoidance of the identified allergens.
The goal of immunotherapy is to train the immune system to no longer react to otherwise harmless substances. This is achieved with weekly injections of an allergen solution to the patient.
The dosage of the allergen given to the patient is not enough to cause a reaction but is sufficient to acclimatize the immune system to the allergen over a period of time. As the patient’s immune system becomes desensitized, the dose of the allergen is slowly increased.
Maintenance injections are then administered monthly until the immune system develops a tolerance to the allergen and severe allergy symptoms are minimized.
This process may take up to three to five years. Immunotherapy is mainly reserved for severe cases of allergies that can lead to fatal complications. These include bee stings or severe allergic rhinitis (hay fever).
Ahire, N. et al. (2016) " Study of Eosinophil Count in Nasal and Blood Smear in Allergic Respiratory Diseases," MVP Journal of Medical Sciences, 3(1),p. 44. Available at: https://doi.org/10.18311/mvpjms/2016/v3/i1/738.
Catalogna, A. et al. (2021) " The Microbiota-Bone-Allergy Interplay," International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(1),p. 282. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19010282.
Smolnikov, E. et al. (2021) "Microarray-Based Allergy Diagnosis: Quo Vadis?," Frontiers in Immunology, 11. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2020.594978.