Allergies 101: What They Are, How to Treat Them, and Prevention Tips

2023-04-27 04:00:00

What are allergies or allergic reactions?

Allergies are usually triggered by an overreaction of the immune system to actually harmless substances, also known as allergens. The most common allergens include pollen, animal dander, house dust mites, mold, foods such as nuts, dairy products or wheat, and insect venoms. Upon contact with these allergens, the immune system produces antibodies that trigger a cascade of inflammatory reactions in the body and lead to the typical allergic symptoms. These include sneezing, itching, skin rashes, breathing difficulties or gastrointestinal problems that affect well-being.

© Happy monkey

Conversely, a strong and balanced immune system is less prone to allergic reactions. A healthy immune system fights off allergies by doing the following:

  • Missing overreactions: A healthy immune system recognizes harmless substances as such and does not overreact to them. It distinguishes between “good” and “bad” and ensures that allergic reactions are not unnecessarily triggered.
  • Regulating Inflammation: Inflammation plays a major role in allergies. A properly functioning immune system can regulate inflammation and prevent the excessive inflammatory response that can occur with allergic reactions.
  • Tolerance development: The immune system can develop tolerance to certain substances that normally trigger allergic reactions. This is done by a special type of immune cell known as regulatory T-cells, which can dampen the activity of other immune cells.
  • Strengthening of the mucous membranes: The mucous membranes in the nose, throat and bronchial area are the first barriers that come into contact with potential allergens. A strong immune system can strengthen these mucous membranes to make it more difficult for allergens to penetrate.
  • gut health: A healthy gut plays a crucial role in a strong immune system. A balanced intestinal flora can support the immune system and help prevent allergies.

The allergy experts Ms. Mag.pharm Eva-Maria Fischer (middle) and specialist Dr. Urban Cerpes (left) with presenter Sonja Krause

How are allergies treated?

Treatment for allergies can vary depending on the severity of the symptoms. Antihistamines, which block the effects of histamine, a substance released during allergic reactions, are often the first choice for relieving mild to moderate symptoms such as sneezing, itching and skin rashes. For more severe symptoms, anti-inflammatory drugs such as corticosteroids can be used. In some cases, immunotherapy can also be considered, in which the body gradually becomes accustomed to the allergen to reduce the overreaction of the immune system.

The allergy test
© Alexander Raths

How can allergies be prevented?

Preventive measures also play an important role in preventing allergies. A healthy immune system can help minimize allergic reactions. Here are some tips on how to boost your immune system and prevent allergies:

  • Avoiding Allergens: Identify the allergens that are causing you symptoms and try to minimize exposure to them. This can be avoiding pollen by closing windows on high pollen days, bathing or cleaning pets or using allergen-proof covers for mattresses and pillows.
  • Healthy eating: Eating a balanced diet high in fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids can help boost your immune system and reduce allergic reactions.
  • Hygiene: Proper personal hygiene, such as washing hands regularly and cleaning rooms, can help minimize allergen exposure.
  • gut health: A healthy gut can support the immune system. A high-fiber diet, probiotics, and prebiotic foods can help promote a healthy gut flora.
  • Stress management: Chronic stress can impair the immune system. It is important to introduce stress-reducing techniques such as meditation, yoga or regular exercise to boost the immune system.
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What are the different types of allergies?

Allergies can vary in terms of symptoms, triggers (allergens), and severity. There are different types of allergies, including:

  • Allergic rhinitis (hay fever): Symptoms can include sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, itching of the eyes, nose and throat, and watery eyes. Frequent triggers are pollen from trees, grasses or weeds.
  • Asthma: Allergic asthma is a form of asthma in which allergens such as pollen, pet dander, or mold spores can cause breathing difficulties, coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness.
  • Food allergies: Symptoms can include rash, itching, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, or in severe cases, anaphylactic shock. Common triggers are nuts, dairy, protein, fish, wheat, or soy.
  • Insect Venom Allergies: Reactions to bee or wasp stings can range from local swelling and redness to severe allergic reactions such as shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea or anaphylactic shock.

It is important to note that genetics, environmental factors and personal lifestyle can also influence the immune system and the occurrence of allergies. If you suspect that you are suffering from an allergy, it is advisable to consult an allergist. A thorough medical history and examination by a doctor or allergist is required to determine whether an allergy is involved. This may include skin testing, blood testing, or challenge testing to identify the allergen that is triggering the reaction. Symptoms alone are often not sufficient to diagnose an allergy with certainty, as they can also occur with other diseases. A correct diagnosis is important to initiate appropriate treatment and prevent or reduce allergic reactions.

Created in cooperation with the Medical Association and the Chamber of Pharmacists

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