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Allergies are immune system reactions to certain environmental factors or substances. Many of them wont bother most people, but give an allergic reaction to those with allergies because they are more sensitive to the substance. Different types of allergies exist including food allergy, drug allergy, mold allergy, penicillin allergy, wheat allergy, peanut allergy, pet dander allergy, food allergy and allergies to dust mites, insect stings, mold spores or pollen. Typically, an allergic reaction can include a rash, swelling, runny nose, red eyes, itching or sneezing. Having allergies is a common medical condition though some allergic reactions can be serious and even life threatening without immediate treatment.

Causes and Risk Factors

Many allergies are caused by genetics or environmental factors that cannot be controlled. Your immune system is built to protect you against certain substances, but the antibodies in your immune system might recognize substances (known as allergens) as being dangerous. This causes allergic reactions. Oftentimes, individuals dont recognize they have an allergy until it is triggered such as taking a medication and having a reaction to it. Some risk factors for allergies include having family members with it or asthma. Also, children are more likely to experience allergy symptoms especially those who have asthma themselves.

Signs, Symptoms and Tests

The signs and symptoms you experience depend on the type of allergy and what allergen is causing it. For example, allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, causes a runny nose, itchy nose, congestion and itchy or watery eyes. Food allergies cause a tingling mouth, hives and swelling of your face, lips, tongue or throat. Symptoms of a drug allergy include hives, swelling of the face, itchy skin, wheezing and rash.

Many allergies, including the ones listed above, have anaphylaxis as a symptom. This is a severe reaction that can cause shortness of breath, a rapid and weak pulse, skin rash, lightheadedness, nausea, vomiting, and swelling of the airways. If youre experiencing signs of anaphylaxis, get emergency medical attention.

Tests and Diagnosis

Your doctor will probably start with a physical examination followed by an allergy test. This is a skin test where you are given a very small amount of the different allergens to see if your skin turns red and looks like a rash. Additional tests for allergies include a complete blood count (CBC) to look for your eosinophil white blood cell count and other blood tests.

Another type of test your doctor may do is the Antigen Leukocyte Antibody test or ALCAT test. It measures reactions to various dietary substances and ones tolerance to them. It can pinpoint trigger foods such as milk, fruits, seafood or nuts that may bring on allergy symptoms.

Treatment, Drugs and Prevention

While you may think you know what youre allergic to, you may not know some of your worst allergens, which put you at risk. Most cases of allergies can be easily treated medically and by avoiding your common allergens. Doctors typically advise allergy avoidance as the first step of treatment. You can also take certain medications that help alleviate allergy symptoms. Medications may be an oral medication, eye drop or nasal spray. Antihistamines, corticosteroids and decongestants are all common allergy medications.

Another treatment option is immunotherapy, which is an allergy shot given for more serious allergies. For severe allergic reactions, you may need epinephrine, a shot to reduce symptoms. Allergies are common and most are harmless, but there are some complications. You could experience anaphylaxis, additional allergies, asthma, sinusitis, atopic dermatitis or fungal complications in your sinuses. Because of these potential complications, you should contact your doctor if youre showing signs and symptoms of allergies.