When someone with red, swollen eyes and a runny nose complains of having allergies, they generally mean the kind of seasonal pollen allergies that can make life miserable for millions of people during the spring and summer. There are many other types of allergies out there, however. For sufferers, these can range from a mere nuisance to potentially life-threatening.
Technically speaking, all types of allergies stem from a disorder of the immune system, wherein the body mistakes harmless substances as threats. Common allergy triggers include pollen, dander, and certain foods, like nuts. In response, white blood cells and antibodies are activated, causing swelling and a variety of other physical reactions, such as trouble breathing and itchiness.
One of the most common forms of this condition is allergic rhinitis, more familiarly known as hayfever. It is a relatively mild allergy in terms of symptoms, and for most sufferers, is more of an annoyance than a serious health concern. It can be seasonal in nature, coinciding with the springtime release of pollen by many different types of vegetation, or year-round, if the specific trigger allergen for a person is something like dust mites.
Dogs and cats are also common allergy sources. Their dander, which is generally comprised dried skin, saliva, and other substances, is shed along with fur. For those allergic to it, breathing this in typically causes allergic rhinitis and many of the other symptoms caused by hayfever. Frequent brushing and high-efficiency air filters in the home are just some of the tactics allergic animal lovers can use to help them be around their pets.
More serious types of reactions are usually associated with intolerance to certain foods or medicines. These types of allergies can cause dangerous swelling of the throat and airway, or even anaphylaxis, which is system-wide allergic shock. Severe reactions of this type can sometimes result in death, if not treated with a drug like epinephrine very quickly. Individuals who are aware they have dangerous and severe allergies often carry their own epinephrine, sometimes in a self-dosing device known as an EpiPen®.
Seafood, eggs, peanuts, soy, and even beef are foods that many people react to. Peanuts in particular afflict a growing number of children, to the point where peanut butter is now outlawed in many schools as a safety measure. Egg allergies are also more common in children than adults, though many grow out of that sensitivity as they mature. In contrast, those with seafood allergies typically become allergic later in life.
Another relatively common allergen is latex — which is, in fact, an organic, plant-based substance. Reactions from contact with latex can range from mild itchiness to anaphylaxis, though that kind of serious reaction is very rare. As a result of this sensitivity, though, hospitals and other medical care centers typically ask patients about this allergy, or uniformly use non-latex gloves.
A wide variety of treatments exist that control and prevent chronic allergic reactions. Antihistamines suppress the body's reaction to allergens and help reduce mild symptoms. Desensitization is another method of treatment, whereby vaccines containing small amounts of a given allergen are administered on a routine basis, which can reduce or eliminate the sensitivity. Though they can be expensive and must be done indefinitely, these allergy shots are, for many people, worth the cost and inconvenience as an effective cure for allergies.