What is Allergy?

Allergies are an exaggerated immune response to typically harmless substances or organisms. The body mistakes these substances, which are normally harmless, for invaders and will go to extreme measures to defend itself. This can result in uncomfortable symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, coughing, watery eyes, itchy throat and skin, hives, nasal congestion, and wheezing.

Risk Factors

Anyone who is exposed to an allergen has a chance of developing an allergy. However, some factors make some people more likely than others to develop an allergy. These risk factors include:

  • Family history of allergies: If you have any family members who have an allergy, your chances of developing one yourself are higher.
  • Age: Young children and older adults are more likely to have allergies.
  • Gender: Women are more likely to have allergies than men.
  • Exposure to allergens: If you are frequently exposed to allergens, you are more likely to develop an allergy.
  • Location: People living in urban areas or with homes in areas close to industrial sites or agricultural areas are more likely to develop allergies.

Symptoms of an Allergic Reaction

When a person is exposed to an allergen, they may experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Watery, red or swollen eyes
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Skin rash, hives, or itching
  • Swelling of tongue, lips and face
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Headache or dizziness

Allergic reactions can be serious and even deadly. If you experience any of the symptoms above after being exposed to an allergen, it is important to seek medical attention immediately.

Tips for Preventing Allergic Reactions

The best way to prevent allergic reactions is to avoid contact with the allergen. Here are some tips to help you do this:

  • Know what you're allergic to. Identify your triggers and what to avoid.
  • Be aware of your environment. Pay attention to areas you visit that may be exposed to the allergen.
  • Read labels. Avoid foods that may contain allergens.
  • Keep medications on hand. Carry emergency epinephrine with you at all times.
  • Wear appropriate clothing. If you have a bee sensitivity, for example, wear long sleeves and pants.