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What’s an Allergy?

written by Head Health Nutter April 27, 2010

Sniffling, sneezing, itchy eyes and skin rashes are just the beginning of what many allergy sufferers experience during an attack. But over-the-counter drugs only mask the symptoms. Let’s find out what allergies are so we can find the root cause!

Although most allergies carry no immediate, severe health concerns (except for those which cause anaphylaxis, a major physical reaction which can result in death), they may end up creating long-term health issues. How? Over time allergies can weaken the immune system creating a susceptibility to disease and illness.

It’s important to do what you can to alleviate the cause rather than continue taking medication to mask the symptoms.

What’s an allergy?

From The Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 4th Ed

An allergy is an inappropriate response by the body’s immune system to a substance that is not normally harmful. The immune system is a highly complex defense mechanism that helps us to fight infections. It does this by identifying foreign invaders and mobilizing the body’s white blood cells to fight them. In some people, the immune system wrongly identifies a nontoxic substance as an invader, and the white blood cells overreact, creating more damage to the body than the invader. Thus the allergic reaction becomes a disease in itself.

Typical allergic responses are: nasal congestion, coughing, wheezing, itching, shortness of breath, headache, fatigue, and hives as well as other skin rashes. They can also appear in different forms including arthritis, depression, asthma, hyperactivity and more.

Almost any substance can cause an allergic reaction in someone, somewhere in the world. The most common allergens (substances that provoke allergic responses) are:

  • pollen
  • mold
  • food (such asĀ  shrimp, lobster, crab, strawberries, chocolate, shellfish, peanuts, walnuts, soy, wheat, gluten, milk and eggs)
  • dust and dust mites
  • certain metals (especially nickel)
  • some cosmetics
  • lanolin
  • animal hair and dander
  • insect venom
  • some common drugs (such as penicillin and aspirin)
  • some food additives (such as benzoic acid and sulfur dioxide)
  • chemicals found in soap, washing powder, cleaning supplies and many others.

So what causes allergies?

Some scientific evidence shows that it’s genetic. (Source: The Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 4th Ed.) Some health practitioners, like nutritional scientist Allison Tannis, say that:

There is no one cause to an allergy. Allergies are caused by a cumulative effect of many insults which over time overwhelms the immune system and other protective mechanisms in the body. Allergies appear to increase with advancing age. This may be linked to toxin accumulation that can lead to metabolic overload, thus weakening the immune system.

What exactly happens to the body in an allergic reaction?

Exposure to an antigen produces an antibody called immunoglobulin E (or IgE) that circulates in the blood. It binds to receptor sites on white blood cells, called mast cells. These cells are found throughout the body but especially in the nose, throat, lungs, skin and gastrointestinal tract.

When the allergen enters the body again, it reacts with its specific IgE on the mast cells to trigger the release of chemicals, such as histamine and other inflammatory products. These chemicals produce symptoms and it can happen in any part of the body.

Dr. Tannis explains further:

Histamine is an inflammatory substance that acts directly on small blood vessels making them leaky. Fluid from the blood is able to leak into the tissue causing swelling or edema, which acts on nerve endings to cause pain. Blood vessels are also stimulated to dilate causing redness and heat. Inflammatory substances also cause smooth muscle to contract which can lead to narrowing of the bronchi reducing the ability to breathe.

Now that we’re clear on what allergies are and what causes them, stay tuned for Thursday’s post for some natural solutions to help you prevent AND treat allergies.

Do you have allergies? What are they, when did you develop them and how have you been dealing with them so far?

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