Allergies — those eye watering, head itching, patience trying annual bouts that drive us crazy. What causes them?
If you have allergies, you might blame the allergens — the pollen in the air, your best friend’s cat — for your symptoms.
But actually, most allergens are themselves harmless innocents. What really causes allergic reactions is your own immune system. It mistakes these innocuous allergens for a serious threat and attacks them. The symptoms of an allergy are the result of a body’s misguided assault.
What Causes Allergies to Start?
It begins with exposure. Even if you’ve inhaled an allergen many times before with no trouble, at some point, for some reason, the body flags it as an invader. During this particular exposure, the immune system studies the allergen. It readies itself for the next exposure by developing antibodies, special cells designed to detect it. You are now “sensitized” to the allergen.
Then, the next time you’re exposed to the allergen, your immune system kicks into action. The antibodies recognize it. That triggers the activation of special cells called mast cells. These cells are responsible for allergy symptoms in the lungs, skin, and lining of the nose and intestinal tract.
The mast cells burst open, flooding the system with chemicals such as histamine. These chemicals cause allergy symptoms, like swelling. Swelling in your nasal passages might cause a runny nose. Swelling in the airways could cause asthma symptoms.
Keep in mind that the amount of exposure matters. If you’re allergic to strawberries, maybe eating one or two never causes any symptoms. But once you eat three or four, you may suddenly break out in hives. There’s a tipping point — or threshold — for people with allergies. You can handle some exposure, but if it gets to be too much, the immune system is triggered to attack.
Taking Control of Allergy Symptoms
If you have allergies, don’t ignore them. Allergy symptoms rarely go away on their own. And there’s evidence that poorly managed allergies can lead to more severe symptoms — ear infections, sinus infections, and even full-blown asthma.
So take your allergy symptoms seriously and see one of our Practitioners. Not only will regular medical treatment and lifestyle changes help end sniffling and sneezing now, but it can also protect you from more serious complications in the future.