Allergies and allergic reactions

What is allergies?

When the body comes into contact with something that it sees as a threat, the immune system will be deployed in order to destroy it. This is perfectly natural and is the way that humans and animals deal with things like germs that have entered the body. However, when the body reacts strongly to something that is usually harmless - such as tree pollen, for example – then this is referred to as an allergic reaction. In other words, an allergy – or an allergic disease as medical scientists would say – is a hypersensitivity to something non-harmful, usually referred to as an allergen. Symptoms of allergies include itchiness, running noses, red eyes, soreness and even life-threatening anaphylactic shock in the most severe cases.

 Why are allergies on the rise?

 The number of cases and severity of allergies in humans has been on the rise in recent decades, leading some people to think there is a link with modern lifestyles. However, no single theory for explaining allergy increases has yet to be fully established. One idea is that children are not exposed to enough bacteria when young, so their immune systems don't 'learn' when to react and when not to. However, this does not explain cases of allergies in very young children and babies. Some people think it is linked to the prevalence of chronic diseases, such as morbid obesity, in wider society.

How are allergies tested?

Medics use two types of test for allergies. Not only can they tell you which substances you might be allergic to but the degree of sensitivity you have from these. A skin prick test places a series of small samples on your body, and the medic then looks to see how much of a reaction has been caused within a given period. The other type of test works by taking a sample of your blood and testing it in a laboratory. This takes longer to get the results but is considered to be more accurate.

Are allergies genetic or environmental?

In one sense, all allergies are environmental because an allergic reaction kicks in only when you are exposed to the relevant allergen from which you suffer. If you can avoid it, then you may never suffer from an allergic reaction – or even know you have an allergy at all. That said, the development of allergies is known to have a hereditary correlation, so purely environmental explanations of their presence are not possible. In other words, you cannot explain allergies entirely by the presence of car fumes nearby, for example.

Will allergies ever be cured?

There are no cures for allergies, but work is ongoing to find them. In the meantime, treating the symptoms of allergies is the best medical science can offer. Bear in mind that an allergy sometimes goes away of its own accord, too.

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