Symptoms of allergies occur when a person's immune response system improperly identifies a normally harmless substance as a threat. A susceptible person may develop hives, hay fever, asthma, extreme swelling, eczema, intestinal symptoms or allergic shock. These symptoms are caused when specialized immune system cells release histamine and other allergic chemicals at the affected site (eyes, nose, throat, skin, lungs, etc.).
Substances capable of causing allergic symptoms are called “allergens.” Although the tendency to develop symptoms is inherited, allergic symptoms may develop at any age, depending on the frequency and quantity of exposure. Many people develop allergic problems after living in central Texas for a period of time. The mild climate and high humidity in Austin cause high levels of pollens and molds throughout much of the year, and cedar pollen from December through February can be especially severe.
What are Allergies?
There are a tremendous variety of allergens that may cause symptoms in a sensitive person. Allergens can be divided into three basic groups:
Inhalants (pollens, house dust, animal dander, mold)
Ingestants (foods, beverages, drugs)
Injected Substances (drugs, vaccines, insect venoms)
Note: Other factors may trigger or worsen allergic symptoms, including infections, changes in weather, emotional factors or exposure to irritants (tobacco smoke, pollutants, etc.).
There are three fundamental ways to treat allergic individuals:
Avoidance: If allergens can be avoided, symptoms will not occur. Unfortunately, most allergens are impossible to completely avoid. Avoidance measures are most practical for indoor allergens such as pets and house dust mites and for food and drug allergies.
Medication: Many medications are available for controlling allergic symptoms. Prescription and over the counter nasal sprays, lung inhalers and oral medications may temporarily relieve symptoms. Unfortunately, multiple medications may be required, side effects may occur and medicines do not affect the underlying allergic sensitivity. Symptoms usually recur when medications are stopped.
Allergy Shots (Immunotherapy): The injection of increasingly stronger concentrations of specific allergens can lead to gradual reduction in allergic symptoms. After several months, most people taking shots feel better and need less medication. A three- to five-year course of shots often results in reduced symptoms for years. Shots can almost eliminate the possibility of life-threatening allergic reactions to bee or fire ant stings. Unfortunately allergy shots are not effective for food or drug allergic reactions.