Allergies are a common problem in both children and adults. It arises due to an abnormal sensitivity to otherwise harmless substances. Most people are aware of hay fever (allergic rhinitis) where the nose is involved, allergic asthma when it affects the airways and atopic dermatitis or allergic contact dermatitis which involves the skin. However, allergies can affect any part of the body or sometimes almost the entire body simultaneously.
Allergies can start up in childhood and eventually resolve on its own, or it may arise in adulthood. There are different types of allergic reactions. Some of these reactions can be very serious and even life-threatening within minutes of exposure to the trigger. However, the majority of allergies do not pose this type of threat. It causes mild to moderate discomfort which tends to affect a person’s quality of life in the long term.
The immune system protects the body against any threat. It is able to do so by recognising a potential threat and neutralising it as rapidly as possible. In allergies, the immune system malfunctions and considers an otherwise harmless substance (like milk protein, animal hair or pollen) to be a threat and reacts against it. This harmless substance is known as the allergen. Its structure (antigen) is erroneously identified as being dangerous and the body forms antibodies against it in much the same way as it would with a virus or bacteria.
When the allergen enters the system, the antibodies attach to it and initiate an immune response. This in turn triggers inflammation and is seen as the symptoms of an allergy. For this reasons an allergy is referred to as an immune hypersensitivity reaction. There are two types of allergies – immediate and delayed. Immediate-hypersensitivity reactions are triggered within minutes to hours of exposure to the allergen. Delayed-hypersensitivity reactions become evident with many hours to days after exposure to the allergen.
The type of substance that can be an allergen may vary greatly. Some allergens include:
- Foods like dairy, wheat, egg yolks, nuts, shellfish.
- Animal hair or fur (dander)
- House dust mite and cockroaches
- Drugs (pharmaceutical medication)
- Insect bites/stings
The exact reason why some people develop allergies and others do not is not clearly understood. There appears to be genetic factors involved which may explain the tendency for some allergies to occur in families. An allergic disposition (atopy) increases the likelihood of a child having allergic conditions like atopic dermatitis (eczema), allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and allergic asthma from very early in life. Some people also develop allergies when repeatedly exposed to certain substance like in occupational settings.
There is a growing body of evidence that cigarette smoking increases the risk of allergies. It can also affect non-smokers who are inhaling the cigarette smoke passively. This is a significant finding especially among children. Mothers who smoke when pregnant and young children living in a home with a smoker are therefore more likely to develop allergies or experience it more severely than children who are not exposed to cigarette smoke.
Antibiotics and Vaccines
Various research studies have indicated that antibiotic use within the first 6 months of life may increase the risk of a child developing allergic conditions by the age of 6 years. Read more on the study on antibiotic exposure, asthma and allergies from the American Journal of Epidemiology. There is no conclusive evidence that childhood immunisation is linked to allergies. Much of these claims about the dangers of vaccines are anecdotal. Anaphylactic reactions, a severe allergic reaction that arises almost immediately, to vaccines are rare.
The symptoms of allergies depend on the type of allergic reaction and part of the body that is affected. The immune response trigger inflammation and these inflammatory symptoms are largely the same anywhere in the body. An allergic reaction to an insect sting may be different from the allergic reaction in atopic dermatitis (eczema). Therefore the onset of symptoms and severity can vary.
Nose and Sinuses
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Itchy nose
The eyes are often involved as well. Redness, excessive tearing and itching or burning of the eyes may therefore accompany the nasal symptoms.
- Dry, flaking or peeling skin
- Redness and swelling
- Oozing discharge (sometimes)
- Difficulty breathing
- Excessive mucus
These are just some of the symptoms present in an allergy occurring in certain areas of the body.
This a very serious type of allergic reaction that can be life-threatening.
- Severe shortness of breath
- Loss of consciousness
- Swelling of the tongue, throat and airways
- Skin rash
- Nausea and vomiting
Conventional allergy management requires a combination of drugs, diet and lifestyle changes. The focus is on reducing exposure to the allergen(s) and minimising the body’s response to it. Some of the medication used includes:
- Immune-modulating agents
- Epinephrine for emergency allergic states
Immunotherapy involves the administration of allergen extracts over a long period of time to reduce the body’s hypersensitive response. These allergy shots are a form of desensitisation to the allergen.
The homeopathic treatment of allergies has similar goals. Management involves dietary and lifestyle change along with a combination of homeopathic and sometimes herbal medicines. The homeopathic remedy of choice depends on individual factors. By stimulating the body’s innate healing ability, homeopathic allergy treatment aims to correct the immune system’s hyperreactivity to allergens.
Homeopathic desenstitisation therapy use ultra-minute doses of the allergen to gradually modulate the immune system. It is administered as drops, tablets, granules or powders over a long period of time. Always consult with a homeopath for the appropriate allergy treatment. Individual prescriptions can vary significantly among people with the same allergies.
It is important to note that conventional allergy treatment like pharmaceutical drugs should not be discontinued without the approval of a medical doctor. Some drugs like corticosteroids that are often considered to be detrimental to one’s health has significant benefits as part of an allergy management program, especially for conditions like asthma.