Guest Author - Carolyn Chambers Clark, RN, EdD
An allergy is your body's way of overreacting to something. This something is called an "allergen." Your body usually saves this reaction for something dangerous like a virus or a bacteria, but for some reason, you misinterpret the danger and overreact.
Usually your immune system can tell the difference between a threat, like a virus, and some harmless substance like food or pollen. When your immune system can't discriminate, it attacks the harmless food, pollen, animal dander, or whatever, as if they were threats to your health. Allergies can range from mildly bothersome to life threatening. Once you are exposed to an allergen, your immune system releases a chemical called "histamine", which is why your doctor or health care provider prescribes an antihistamine.
If you have an allergy, you probably already know how it feels. Allergies create symptoms like hives, itching, difficulty breathing, sneezing or a runny nose, and headaches. Sometimes, stomachaches, migraine headaches, leg and joint pains, excessive fatigue and irritability, pallor and dark circles under your eyes. Bed wetting has also been associated with allergy. If you suffer from allergies, you may also have sinusitis and more frequent colds because allergens can block and swell your nasal passages and sinus cavities.
If you have an allergy to house dust mites, feathers, animal dander or fungi, you will probably have symptoms such as sinus infections or nasal polyps, and a nose that may run unpredictably throughout the year.
You might be allergic to wind-borne pollens from trees, grass, weeds or fungi, you may notice itching in your nose, the roof of your mouth, your throat and/or your eyes. You may sneeze, tear, have red eyes, and also have a watery discharge coming from your nose. Headaches, feeling irritable, losing your appetite, feeling depressed, and having difficulty sleeping are also common.
If you have a food allergy, you may have had symptoms since childhood, including eczema,diarrhea, cramps, constipation, and so on. At first, you may have had a skin rash, but by the end of your first year of life, your symptoms probably switched to breathing problems. By then, you probably developed reactions to specific foods. It is now believed that food intolerance may be responsible for some cases of irritable bowel syndrome, pain, cramps and diarrhea.
What are some common food allergies? You may be very sensitive to allergens in nuts, legumes, seeds and shellfish. Milk is another common allergen that can produce breathing difficulty in some people. Food additives also start allergic reactions in some people. The most common additives that people are allergic to are: monosodium glutamate (MSG), metabisulfite, and the yellow dye called tartrazin. It's possible to suffer from a food-induced migraine, too.
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