What Are Allergies?

For most of us, we are so used to our chronic allergy symptoms that we don’t stop and ask, what causes allergies?  What is the physiological process behind pollen making you sick, but not your friends?  Or, why is your cousin so much more sensitive to dust than you are?  Without getting too technical, this article will help you understand what causes allergy symptoms and why there is such a variance in the magnitude with which people experience them.
 

Pollen

Allergies are actually a mistake on the part of our immune system; your body is reacting to a relatively harmless substance as though it were attacking your body.  The immune system begins to produce an antibody called IgE, which attaches to Mast cells.  When an allergen enters the system, it attaches to this substance, stimulating the release of a chemical called Histamine.  This causes the inflammatory response, which can consist of pain, redness, or swelling.  Hence, drugs that treat allergy symptoms are known as antihistamines.
 

Needless to say, there is great variability in how people react to simple substances and organisms like pollen, pet dander, dust mites, peanuts, and mold. However, there is also a significant range in the extent to which our bodies react during an allergic response.  Symptoms range from being barely noticeable, to dermatitis (a rash), to anaphylaxis, a complex set of dramatic reactions that can be fatal.

Histamine

The scientific community isn't certain as to why this physiological anomaly occurs.  Some experts suggest that, while being allergic to a specific substance is not hereditary, the propensity to develop allergies is.  In reality, no one actually knows what causes allergies from a logical standpoint; what we do have is an understanding of what physically happens when these particles enter the system.  The “Why” is frustratingly elusive; thus, the current consensus is that allergies are, simply put, a mistake!

 

References:  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

Additional Resources

Additional Resources: How to Get Rid of Allergies
  Do Air Purifiers Work?
  What is Asthma?

By: Eugene Ravitsky

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