The Most Common Allergies

Humans are blessed with marvelous protection from the immune system. Sometimes, however, the immune system can go a little haywire and react to something (usually a protein) that really isn’t harmful to most people. When that happens, you have an allergy.

What Exactly is an Allergy?

An allergy is your body’s response to a foreign protein. The first time you are exposed to the offending substance (called an allergen), the immune system creates chemicals known as antibodies. The next time you come in contact with the allergen, antibodies rush to the scene and cause all kinds of symptoms like swelling, itching, a runny nose, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Most of these are attempts to get the allergen out of your system. In addition, you may have much more serious symptoms like trouble breathing, massive swelling and extremely rapid heart beta or low blood pressure. This kind of reaction – known as anaphylaxis – can be life-threatening and requires emergency treatment.

All About Allergies

Almost any protein can trigger an allergy. However, certain kinds of proteins are more likely to cause allergies. You can react if these come in contact with your skin, if you inhale them or swallow them. Antihistamines can treat minor symptoms, but for anaphylaxis, you need adrenalin (epinephrine) and may need other emergency care like oxygen. Many people who have severe allergic reactions carry epi-pens with them so they can administer adrenalin immediately after coming in contact with an allergen. Here are the most common allergies:

  • Pollen from any plant can trigger an allergy, but certain plant allergens are more common – ragweed, cedar, rye grass and oak pollen are well-known offenders.
  • Dust mites are tiny (can’t see them without a microscope) insects. They’re found in places like mattresses, box springs, stuffed animals and carpets. Cockroaches are another insect that can cause allergic reactions.
  • Molds are not exactly plants, but they have some plant-like characteristics. You’ll often find them in damp areas or in leaves and grasses.
  • Animal dander is the flakes of skin the animal sheds from cats. Dogs and horses (or any other animal with hair) can be an allergen for some people. Animal saliva and pet hair can also trigger allergies.
  • Insects can cause allergic reactions. Bees, hornets, wasps, fire ants and yellow jackets are the most common offenders.
  • Latex is used in a wide variety of products, especially in the medical field – gloves, urinary catheters and condoms, for example. If you have an allergy to bananas you’re more likely to be allergic to latex, and vice versa.
  • Food allergies are relatively common, and most allergies are caused by what doctors call the Big Eight: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, egg, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish. Although sesame isn’t on the top of the list, it’s another common allergen.

In most cases, the best thing you can do when you have an allergy is to avoid the allergen. That can be relatively easy if it’s something like shellfish – you just don’t eat it. It’s much harder if it’s a food like eggs which are used in many prepared foods or a pollen which is floating around in the air. Another option is to see an allergist/immunologist and have allergy testing to confirm the allergen, and then get desensitization treatment. Desensitization involves a series of injections that contains the allergen. The initial doses are very dilute, but they get stronger over time as your body builds up a tolerance to the allergen and is less likely to react. You can also use decongestants and antihistamines. For severe allergic reactions, you need to carry an epi-pen.