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Allergy 101

The best way to reduce symptoms is to avoid allergens in the first place. This is especially true for food and drug allergies.

An allergy is an abnormal, exaggerated response of the immune system. People who have allergies have immune systems that overreact to a usually harmless substance in the environment. Common substances such as pollen, mould, animal dander, dust and etc.

When you come into contact with an allergen, you may experience a number of symptoms. These range from itchy, watery nose and eyes, asthma-like symptoms such as wheezing and coughing, or breaking out in hives.

The likelihood of developing allergies is related to your parents' allergy history. Allergies cannot be fully cured, but symptoms can be controlled using a combination of avoidance measures and medications, and allergen immunotherapy in select cases.

Symptoms & Types

Allergy symptoms can be categorised as follows:

Mild reactions include local symptoms that affect a specific part of the body, such as rash, hives, and slight nasal congestion. Mild reactions do not spread to other parts of the body.

Moderate reactions include symptoms that spread to other parts of the body, including itchiness and difficulty in breathing.

Severe reactions are known as anaphylaxis, is a rare but life-threatening emergency in which the whole body is affected (systemic). It may start with severe itching of the eyes and face, and progresses to more severe symptoms within minutes. These include:

  • Throat swelling, which could affect swallowing and breathing
  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Mental confusion or dizziness due to sudden drop in blood pressure

Common allergy types can be classified as follows:

Allergic Eczema affects people with dry and rough skin and may be caused by a variety of allergens. Redness of skin, itch and rash are all common symptoms of this allergy.

Nasal Allergy (Hay Fever), also referred to as 'allergic rhinitis', arise during pollinating seasons for certain plants. It is also linked to Allergic Asthma.

Cigarette Smoke Allergy is caused by the numerous toxic chemicals and irritants found in cigarette smoke.

Cockroach Allergy is caused by certain proteins found in cockroach saliva and faeces.

Dust Mite Allergy is, as implied, caused by the microscopic organism that resides in dust found in all dwellings.

Food Allergy occurs when a specific food substance triggers an abnormal response in the body's immune system.

Managing Allergies

The best way to reduce symptoms is to avoid allergens in the first place. This is especially true for food and drug allergies. Based on the type of severity of the allergy, a doctor may prescribe one of the several medications available today.

Antihistamines are available over-the-counter and by prescription. They come in the form of capsules, eye drops, injections, nasal sprays, and more.

Corticosteroids fight against inflammation. Patients with severe allergic reactions may be prescribed pills or injections over short periods of time.

Decongestants help relieve stuffy noses. It is important to note that overuse of a nasal spray over several days may cause a 'rebound' effect - a worse congestion than before. Decongestant pills do not have this side effect.

Allergy shots are sometimes recommended when the allergen cannot be avoided, or if the symptoms are hard to control. These injections help keep your immune system from overreacting. However, as the dosage has to be incrementally administered, frequent visits to the doctor is required and may not be feasible for everyone.



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