What causes allergies?

boy blowing his nose

It seems as if we all know at least one person who is allergic to something – whether it be to peanuts, sesame seeds, fish or dust mites. To many, allergies are an inconvenience that can disrupt normal life. Many of us will be familiar to the weepy, itchy eyes and runny noses caused by allergic rhinitis, otherwise known as hay-fever.

On the other hand, there are the rarer, more serious cases where allergies can be life-threatening, and those suffering will have to take extra caution with what they eat or come into contact with. But what actually is an allergic reaction? And what causes allergies in the first place? In this article, we will shed some light on the ins and outs of allergic reactions, providing you with a better understanding of this mysterious phenomenon.

What is an allergic reaction?

An allergic reaction occurs when your body reacts to a normally harmless substance that your immune system thinks is harmful. In reaction to this, your immune system “overreacts” and releases an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE) that tries to destroy what it thinks to be a pathogen – which is a bacterium or virus that can cause disease.

When this antibody is released, it then clings onto the immune cells that circulate your body – these are called mast cells. The antibodies will then grab onto the allergens and release histamines into the blood. What follows is what we have come to know as an allergic reaction – the sufferer will experience symptoms such as a shortness of breath, sudden swelling or an itchy rash. This is why we might take an antihistamine when experiencing symptoms of hay-fever, as these suppress the effects that the histamines are having on the cells in your body.  

However, this would be an example of a relatively mild reaction. The more severe allergic reactions can cause the sufferer to go into an anaphylactic shock. Anaphylaxis can result in a loss of blood pressure, difficulty breathing, dizziness and, in some very extreme cases, death. These severe reactions are usually treated with a hormone called epinephrine (more commonly known as adrenaline), which maintains blood pressure and opens up the airwaves. This is why those with particularly severe allergies will carry an EpiPen with them at all times, which can be used to inject a dose of epinephrine into the thigh muscle to combat an anaphylactic reaction.

What causes allergies?

The truth is, we don’t have a concrete answer as to why people have allergies – it is still a bit of mystery. Despite this, we do know that genetics certainly play a role. By this, we mean that you are more likely to develop an allergy if a close member of your family has allergies. We also know that allergies are more likely to develop in young children rather than teenagers or adults – however, allergies can arise at any age.

In addition, if you already have one allergy, the chances are you probably have another one as well. This is why many people suffering from allergies are allergic to multiple different things –– just think of that one friend who seems to be allergic to absolutely everything.

There is also a connection between allergies and closely related conditions, such as eczema or asthma. In fact, those who are particularly unfortunate develop a cluster of allergic diseases known as the Atopic March, which includes eczema, food allergy, allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and asthma. So while we don’t have a clear explanation as to what causes allergies, we do have some idea about the factors that can increase the chances of developing allergies – which is a step in the right direction!

Why are allergies becoming more common in children?

More and more people are developing allergies every year, especially young children. While, there is currently no definite explanation for this, many theorise that this may be something to do with the fact that our environment is constantly getting cleaner and less germ-infested. This is known as the “hygiene hypothesis”.

This is particularly the case with young children today, who enter a world that is more clean and germ-free than ever before. Because their immune systems have had less germs to deal with, their bodies are not used to fighting off disease. Therefore, it is more likely that their immune systems will overreact when a normally harmless substance comes along. As a result, some would argue that raising a child in “unclean” conditions could actually be beneficial in strengthening their immune system. However, this doesn’t mean that you should raise your children in a pigsty. Still clean your surfaces regularly, but don’t be afraid to let your children play outside and get a bit muddy.

Is there a cure for allergies?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for allergies. While there are measures you can take to give yourself relief from the symptoms (such as antihistamines and decongestants) there is nothing as of yet that will rid you of your allergy entirely – this is something the scientists are still working on.

At the moment, the best way to keep your allergies at bay is to simply avoid the allergen that causes you to have a reaction as best you can. If you have a food allergy, then make sure to learn what you can and can’t eat – always check the ingredients list if you are not sure. If your allergy is particularly severe, make sure to always carry your EpiPen on you. You never know when you might go into anaphylactic shock, so it is very important to always have your EpiPen on your person just in case.

If you suspect that yourself or your child may have an allergy, then get in touch with Qured. Our qualified doctors can come straight to your door in as little as two hours to provide you with a diagnosis, as well as any further advice you may need. To benefit from the many healthcare services we offer, then sign up to Qured today.