While plenty of people look forward to the spring each year, millions of people dread it. Why? You can thank allergies to tree and flower pollen and grass. What causes allergies and why do they only seem to affect some people, but not others? Allergies occur when a system that’s meant to protect you and keep you healthy oversteps it bounds.
What Causes Allergies?
The simplest answer to “what causes allergies?” is this: Your immune system. The job of the immune system is to protect and defend the body against outside, harmful forces. When you get a cold, it’s because your immune system is going to battle against a virus. When you eat something funny and get a stomach bug, it’s because your immune system is doing what it can to get that bacteria out of your system.
But sometimes, the immune system goes overboard. It starts responding to substances that aren’t actually harmful, developing antibodies and going into an attack mode if that substance is detected.
Your body can develop an allergy to a variety of substances. Some people are allergic to foods, some to pollen and other parts of plants, and others to molds, cockroaches or insect bites. Some people are seemingly allergic to pretty much everything.
Types of allergic reaction can vary as well. In some people, reactions are mild. You might develop a runny nose or feel congested but can easily manage the symptoms with an over-the-counter antihistamine. Others might have a severe, life-threatening reaction whenever they come near an allergen. Anaphylaxis is an example of the most extreme type of reaction to an allergen. It can make you feel dizzy, lower your blood pressure, and even cause you to pass out.
Why Doesn’t Everyone Have Allergies?
There are a number of reasons why not everyone gets allergies. Your chances of developing allergies is partly influenced by whether or not your parents also have allergies. If no one in your family has any allergies, you’re likely not to have them as well. But having a mom or dad or both parents with allergies increases your risk for developing them.
Exposure to certain allergens can also play a part in whether or not a person develops allergies. Some people think that being exposed to allergens early in life helps to prevent allergies from occurring. It’s also the case that you’re not likely to develop an allergy to something if you’re never exposed to it.
Why Do Some People Get Allergies Later in Life?
Although many people have allergies as children, a good number don’t have allergies until they are adults. The exact reason why isn’t always clear. It could be that you were not exposed to a certain allergen until adulthood, so your immune system didn’t know to overreact to it until then. For example, if you move across the country or move to a different part of the world, you might be exposed to different types of pollen compared to where you grew up.
In some cases, though, adult-onset allergies are more mysterious. You might not have been allergic to cats or dogs as a child. But one day, as an adult, you’re suddenly sneezing every time you see a cat.
There are also instances when a person has had allergies throughout his or her life, but mistakenly thought the symptoms were due to persistent colds. Some people seem to develop allergies as adults when in reality they had them all along and just never knew.
How Can You Cope with Allergies?
Whether you’ve had allergies forever or have only recently developed them, you have a few options for coping with allergies. Often, the first coping method recommended is to try to avoid exposure to the allergen.
That can be easier said than done. In the case of food allergies, you can avoid nuts, wheat, or whatever you’re allergic to, but you have to be diligent about telling people about your allergy and making sure no allergens are hidden in your food. In the case of pollen or seasonal allergies, avoidance can mean locking yourself indoors for weeks or months.
Taking antihistamines is another way to deal with mild seasonal allergies. For many people, over-the-counter medicines are all they need.
If you have severe allergies that really interfere with your quality of life, immunotherapy can be your best option. Immunotherapy involves taking an allergy test to determine what substances you’re allergic to. Then, you receive a series of shots, usually weekly, for up to a year. The shots contain the substances you’re allergic to and are designed to improve your immune system’s response to them. In the best of cases, people who undergo immunotherapy are able to stop taking allergy medications and can enjoy an improved quality of life.
ABOUT DR. RUBINSTEIN
Dr. Rubinstein has nearly sixteen years of experience in helping patients with allergies and sinus problems in the Hudson Valley. A board certified facial plastic surgeon and board certified otolaryngologist, he has extensive knowledge of laser procedures, facial plastic surgery, and nasal and sinus treatments, which allows him to improve aesthetics as well as functionality of the nose and facial features. Dr. Rubinstein received his board certifications through the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and the American Board of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. To learn more about adult-onset allergies, allergy testing and immunotherapy, schedule an appointment with Dr. Rubinstein at the Hudson Valley Sinus Center by calling 845-562-6673.