What is an Allergy?

Have you ever experienced teary, red eyes, sneezing and breathlessness whenever there’s a cat or dog nearby? If this happens all the time, you may have an allergy to such animals.

Allergies occur when foreign substances trigger a reaction from your immune system when they don’t normally cause discomfort to other people. One in every three people in the United Arab Emirates has allergies. Some allergies are more common than others, such as allergies to pollen and pet dander.

Allergies can be outgrown but they can also be developed at any point in your life.

What happens when you get a reaction?

First, your immune system will identify a harmless substance as an invader. Therefore, exposure to an allergen – through inhaling, swallowing or getting it on their skin – will lead to a chain of events. The immune system will start creating antibodies that bind the allergen, and these antibodies stay on guard for future “incursions”. A second or further exposure to the same allergen will then cause the antibodies to release chemicals such as histamines – which lead to allergy symptoms.

Symptoms

Allergies to substances in the air such as pollen, pet dander and dust mites will usually lead to symptoms such as sneezing, itchy eyes and wheezing. Meanwhile, if some food or medication (allergies to peanuts, for example, are common) cause an allergic reaction, you would experience symptoms such as hives, swelling, vomiting and atopic eczema.

Other substances that come into direct contact with your skin such as metal jewellery, soaps and perfumes can also be allergens. They may lead to contact dermatitis.

Some people experience only minor irritation from their allergies but for others, their allergic reactions can be severe and lead to anaphylaxis, which can be fatal. For most people, the reactions take place in a local part of their body, but when the reaction happens in a few minutes throughout the body, you get anaphylactic shock.

Some of the symptoms of anaphylactic shock include swelling of the mouth and throat, finding it hard to breathe, rash, skin itchiness, nausea and vomiting, collapsing and becoming unconscious.

Treatment

Most allergies cannot be cured, but below are some treatments that can help ease your symptoms.

You can get medication at pharmacy stores or through your doctor, who would usually recommend antihistamines first. Other types of medication include decongestants, which come in the form of pills, liquid, nasal spray and eye drops. However, avoid long-term use of the eye-drop and nasal spray versions as they can actually worsen your symptoms.
Allergy shots can also be administered. These shots help your body get used to allergens gradually, so your allergic reactions would slowly decrease.
But when you have anaphylactic shock, seek emergency treatment where you will usually get an adrenaline injection. However, before consuming any over-the-counter medication, visit the doctor to ensure that what you have is really an allergic reaction and not symptoms of other illnesses.