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What is an Allergy?

Medically Approved by Dr. Edward Salko

Table of Contents

An allergy is defined as the body’s hypersensitive immune response to a foreign substance. The most common substances that trigger allergic responses include pet dander, pollen, or bee venom. Certain foods, drinks, or the environment can also cause allergic reactions.

Allergies are extremely common; public authorities estimate that about 30% to 40% of the people worldwide suffer from an allergy, food allergies being the most common (especially in children).

How Does an Allergy Occur?

When a person comes in contact with an allergen the reaction to the substance is not immediate. Over time, the immune system builds up sensitivity to the allergen, which it has identified as a foreign body. This process is known as sensitization and it can last anywhere from a few days to several years. During this time, the immune system prepares to fight against these foreign bodies by producing antibodies.

Against common belief, allergens are not responsible for the symptoms associated with an allergic reaction. The immune system produces histamines that actually cause the inflammation and irritation that are typically associated with an allergic reaction. Histamines cause tightening of muscles, including those in the airways, and the walls of blood vessels, and cause the nose to produce more mucus.

The severity of a reaction depends on the type of allergen and the area where the allergy is targeted. An allergic reaction can occur in the gut (digestive system), skin, sinuses, eyes, airways, or nasal passages.

In addition to hereditary factors, people with a preexisting allergy or asthma are more susceptible to develop additional allergies. Although children are more likely to have allergies they often outgrow them.


Allergies can be diagnosed throughblood, skin prick, or patch test that is performed by a doctor if he or she detects symptoms of a specific allergy. Information relating to allergies such as symptoms, family history, and substances that trigger allergic reactions is also helpful in diagnosing an allergy.


The most effective treatment and management of an allergy is to avoid exposure to the allergen. Drugs can help elevate the symptoms of allergies, but cannot treat them. The majority of allergy medications are over-the-counter medicines such as antihistamines, decongestants, and steroid sprays that can treat the symptoms.

However, if you feel as though you are developing an allergy it is important to consult your doctor. The severity of an allergic reaction ranges within a wide spectrum and can even result in death.

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