“Emm… It's only my allergy!”
We are all familiar with this kind of scenario. A survey commissioned by Johnson & Johnson suggests that as many as 10 million Canadians (1 in 3 Canadians) may suffer allergy symptoms. Canadians are not alone: 50 million Americans (1 in 5 Americans) also suffer from various types of allergies.
Allergy is so common, so what exactly is it? An allergy is a reaction of your immune system to something (allergen) that does not bother most other people, for example: pollen, dust mites, mold spores, pet dander, food, insect stings, and medicines, etc.
If you are genetically predisposed for allergy, your immune system misidentifies one of these harmless foreign substances as an invader when you are first time exposed to it, and produces large numbers of IgE antibodies to attack the allergen. These antibodies attach to mast cells which are scattered throughout the skin and respiratory tract. Now you have become sensitized to this particular allergen.
Next time, when you encounter the same allergen again, it binds directly to the IgE antibody stuck to the outside of mast cells. This causes the mast cells to release chemicals called histamines - Histamines are responsible for causing many of the symptoms associated with allergies: runny nose, sneezing, itching, rashes, swelling, etc.
While most allergies won't kill you except the life-threatening severe reaction called anaphylaxis, they sure can make you feel bad. Allergies aren't curable, so prevention is the key. Check out these simple things that you can do to avoid the allergens at home, work, school, and outdoors. Or, when you can't avoid the unavoidable, you still have other options: use medications or allergy shots (immunotherapy) to relieve or control your symptoms.Borrow some books from the Toronto Public Library to educate yourself:
- MedlinePlus: Allergy
- New York Online Access Health (NOAH): Allergies
- Allergy/Asthma Information Association: Allergy
- The Weather Network: Pollen Forecast