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How do you handle an allergy?

Everyone in the world has had some sort of allergic reaction. A sneeze, for example, is an instinctive response to an invading body that caused our lungs to expel air with force in an attempt to eliminate the foreign offender. This is an ‘allergic’ reaction, but what are allergies? How can they be treated or prevented?

 

What are Allergies?

“An ‘allergy’ is a hypersensitive immune response that occurs when a person comes into contact with specific substances called allergens. Allergies can lead to red eyes, itchy rash, swelling, runny nose, and breathing difficulties. Allergies are very common, and food-specific allergies affect 240-550 million people in the world. In the US, 1 in every 13 children has a food allergy, and the prevalence of childhood allergies has increased by more than 50% in the last 20 years. A combination of host and environmental factors determine the intensity of allergic reactions: increased vulnerability can be attributed to various factors including changes in lifestyle, hygiene, diet, and physical activity. However, there is no evidence that GMOs are any more or less allergenic than their non-modified counterparts.”1

 

Ninety percent of food allergies are caused by the common allergens in peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, shellfish, and fish.

“In a toxicologic context, allergy is best defined as the adverse health effects that may result from the stimulation by a xenobiotic of a specific immune response. Allergic disease resulting from exposure to chemicals or drugs has been of interest to toxicologists for many decades. However, allergy to proteins (within foods and pollen, for instance) is more prevalent and has recently assumed greater significance for toxicologists with the increasing interest in the use of proteins as effect molecules. One example is the introduction of enzymes into detergents, as for some time it has been known that they have the potential to cause allergic sensitization. More recently, attention has turned to the safety assessment of genetically modified crops that contain novel proteins. Here, a major challenge for toxicologists is to consider the possible allergenic properties of proposed transgenic proteins.”2

 

As an immune reaction, people can manifest sensitivity to pollen, fur, dust, and even some types of food.

“Diagnosis of pollen allergies mainly relies on careful anamnesis, which includes narrowing down the sensitizing plant by the time clinical symptoms are observed. However, flowering periods are frequently overlapping and can vary in distinct geographic regions while climatic changes are expected to further aggravate the problem. Pollen allergic patients are typically reacting to more than one source, thus specific diagnosis is applied either using allergen extracts or purified components. Based on molecule-based approaches, more specific results are obtained and clinically irrelevant sensitizations due to, e.g., panallergens or other IgE cross-reactive compounds can be circumvented. The currently available panel of allergen components is covering most of the common allergen sources; however, in comparison to extract-based products, there is a substantial gap in quantity. Allergy research will certainly further increase the panel of relevant allergens of known sources as well as novel allergens from plants that were less explored for diagnosis. Molecule-based diagnosis can improve sensitivity, specificity, predict severity of reactions, and identify the genuine sensitizing source.”3

 

The immune system activates and protects the body by attacking the allergen (a foreign agent, like dust) as if it was trying to invade. Allergies can be shown periodically, like the ones appearing during certain seasons (hay fever). They can be chronic or short-lived. In any case, it is important that your doctor evaluates your case, provides suitable diagnosis, and prescribes appropriate treatment, so that more severe issues are avoided on time.

What are Known Allergy Symptoms?

“Allergy is one of the most widespread diseases of the modern world. More than 25% of the population in industrialized countries suffers from allergies. […] Every individual has his or her own immune system; the stronger the immune system, the healthier will be the person. Allergies, also known as hypersensitive reactions, occur when the immune system overreacts to substances that do not affect most people. These substances, also known as allergens, could be pollen, animal dander, chemicals, fungi, dust mites, or foods such as nuts, eggs, shellfish, fish, and milk. Different people show different symptoms of allergies, which can be mild (runny nose) to severe (anaphylaxis). Symptoms generally depend upon the part of body contacted by the allergen, e.g., pollens from the air enter the respiratory tract via the nose and cause respiratory symptoms such as cough, itchy and runny nose, and nasal congestion, sneezing, and wheezing. Food allergy related symptoms include vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Skin allergy symptoms are lesions, rashes, blisters, redness and itchiness, and so on.”4

 

Symptoms may vary but usually are: irritated eyes and throat, nosebleeds, runny mucus, and frequent sneezing. Symptoms occur more often when waking up in the mornings. When exposed to the same allergen, symptoms can reappear.

 

How to Prevent Allergies

There are many OTC options that serve as prophylactic medication. However, if you feel very uncomfortable and symptoms do not go away easily, consult an allergist or medical specialist.

If you experience swelling after having had a particular type of food, you may be allergic to a particular ingredient of the meal. Most food allergies can originate from the following sources: peanuts and nuts, milk, cheese, eggs, fish, shellfish wheat and soy.

 

What are Symptoms of Food Allergies?

“Food allergy conditions are a complex diagnosis; each individual is affected differently. It is also a difficult area of epidemiological, toxicological, or medicinal research because many food allergies are self-reported without qualifying or quantifying metrics (such as pathology, symptom, or biomarker identification). To complicate the subject further, a food allergy can exist along a continuum (or spectrum) […] A food allergy is generally regarded as the more severe diseased state and induces an exaggerated immune response. Lastly, the allergic reaction to a food can vary among inflicted individuals. Example conditions arising from a food allergy could range from itching skin to urticarial outbreak to gastrointestinal dysfunction to anaphylaxis.”5

 

The most common are inflammation and itching of the skin, mouth, or lips. The throat may become engorged and the voice may change, becoming guttural. Gastrointestinal issues like vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea may also present themselves.

These symptoms can initiate just after eating and require immediate medical attention. It is always a good idea to consult your doctor or caregiver to anticipate and prevent these problems.

“Food allergies are common, result in both acute and chronic disease, might be increasing in prevalence, affect quality of life, and can be severe and potentially fatal. Diagnosis currently relies on a careful history and an appreciation of epidemiologic aspects of the disorder, the role and limitation of simple diagnostic tests, and, if needed, the use of an OFC to confirm allergy or tolerance. Treatment currently relies on avoidance of triggers and appropriate prompt response to allergic reactions, such as using epinephrine for anaphylaxis. Insights on pathophysiology are leading to the development of improved methods for prevention, diagnosis, and management, including clinical studies that are currently underway that might reduce risks for allergic subjects or possibly cure these allergies.”6

 

“True food allergies are abnormal (heightened) responses of the immune system to components of certain foods. The components of foods that elicit these abnormal immune responses are typically naturally-occurring proteins in the foods. True food allergies can be divided into two categories based upon the nature of the immune response—immediate hypersensitivity reactions and delayed hypersensitivity reactions. In immediate hypersensitivity reactions, symptoms begin to develop within minutes to an hour or so after ingestion of the offending food. Immediate hypersensitivity reactions have been noted with many foods and can sometimes be quite severe. Immediate hypersensitivity reactions involve abnormal responses of the humoral immune system with the formation of allergen-specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. In delayed hypersensitivity reactions, symptoms do not begin to appear until 24 hours or longer after the ingestion of the offending food. With the exception of celiac disease, which involves an abnormal immunological response to wheat and related grains, the role of delayed hypersensitivity reactions to foods remains poorly defined. Delayed hypersensitivity reactions involve abnormal responses of the cellular immune system with the development of sensitized T cells.”7

 

Also, a considerable number of anti-allergy products are available without prescriptions and they can be easily acquired should allergic reactions happen to you.

“A topic of particular relevance with oral antihistamines is the availability of loratadine as an over-the-counter preparation. This has raised several issues. Loratadine is now preferred for treatment of allergies by many insurance companies, reflected in the higher copayments for the other oral second-generation antihistamines, although loratadine may not be as effective as the other preparations for controlling allergy symptoms in all patients. However, patients with low incomes may be unable to obtain these other agents.”8

 

“Considerable resources have been focused on reducing the incidence of allergic response by modifying existing therapeutics and developing new anti-allergic drugs. This manuscript reviewed the current state of play with regard to the development of anti-allergic drugs. Extensive research on the mechanism of allergy and therapeutics to combat allergic disease will give us an opportunity to find new strategies for establishing effective treatments. Continued research on the molecular mechanism of allergic disease will inevitably generate new forms of therapy.”9

 

References:

(1) Xu, C. (2016). Nothing to sneeze at: allergenicity of GMOs. Available online at:

http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/allergies-and-gmos/

(2) Huby, R. D., Dearman, R. J., & Kimber, I. (2000). Why are some proteins allergens?. Toxicological Sciences, 55(2), 235-246. Available online at:

https://academic.oup.com/toxsci/article/55/2/235/1735901

(3) Pablos, I., Wildner, S., Asam, C., Wallner, M., & Gadermaier, G. (2016). Pollen allergens for molecular diagnosis. Current allergy and asthma reports, 16(4), 31. Available online at:

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11882-016-0603-z

(4) Elshemy, A., & Abobakr, M. JOURNAL OF SCIENTIFIC & INNOVATIVE RESEARCH. Available online at:

http://www.jsirjournal.com/Vol2Issue1013.pdf

(5) Benton, E. N., & Sayes, C. M. (2017). Environmental Factors Contribute to the Onset of Food Allergies. Journal of Environmental Science and Public Health, 1(1), 27-43. Available online at:

https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/c1b4/e8f89d041d405afefb30bc771b5240fbff3c.pdf

(6) Sicherer, S. H., & Sampson, H. A. (2010). Food allergy. Journal of allergy and clinical immunology, 125(2), S116-S125. Available online at:

https://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(09)01270-6/pdf

(7) Taylor, S. L., & Hefle, S. L. (2001). Food allergies and other food sensitivities. FOOD TECHNOLOGY-CHAMPAIGN THEN CHICAGO-, 55(9), 68-84. Available online at:

http://www.ift.org/~/media/Knowledge%20Center/Science%20Reports/Scientific%20Status%20Summaries/foodallergens_0901.pdf

(8) Meltzer, E. O. (2005, September). Evaluation of the optimal oral antihistamine for patients with allergic rhinitis. In Mayo Clinic Proceedings (Vol. 80, No. 9, pp. 1170-1176). Elsevier. Available online at:

https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(11)61964-2/pdf

(9) Nagai, H., Teramachi, H., & Tuchiya, T. (2006). Recent advances in the development of anti-allergic drugs. Allergology International, 55(1), 35-42. Available online at:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6721758_Recent_Advances_in_the_Development_of_Anti-allergic_Drugs

Robert Velasquez
13 October, 2018

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