al' lêr gy – An abnormal immune response (allergic reaction) to a non-harmful trigger (an allergen).
Exposure to allergens does not produce allergy symptoms in non-allergic individuals, but causes mild to severe symptoms in an allergic person. These symptoms may include sneezing; watery, itchy, red eyes; a runny nose; a scratchy throat or cough. Some allergy sufferers have more symptoms. Dry, red, itchy patches of skin called eczema can be caused by allergies. A severe allergic reaction may be expressed as hives, swelling of the lips, eyes or extremities. Life-threatening allergic reactions occur when airways become swollen shut or when a rapid drop in blood pressure (shock) occurs.
There are two factors that determine if a person will have allergies: their genetic background, and their exposure to allergens. Allergies run in families. If one parent has allergies, there is about a 25 percent chance that their children will have allergies. If both parents have allergies, the likelihood goes up to about 50 percent that each child will develop allergies. The genetic background provides the potential to develop allergies; the environment provides the allergen trigger. The warm, moist climate of Houston and the Gulf Coast ensures that there are plenty of allergens year round to trigger allergy symptoms.
Anything that enters the body is potentially capable of producing an allergic response. In general, however, the most common allergic triggers are pollens (from grasses, trees, weeds), mold spores, dust mites (microscopic organisms found in house dust), insect venoms, animal danders and foods. Only two percent of the population has actual food allergies, but allergic reactions to foods are often severe and are potentially life threatening. Tobacco smoke, perfume, hair spray and the components of air pollution are generally not allergens, but their presence can make existing allergy symptoms worse.
Some allergens have a defined season. Ragweed, for example, pollinates during the fall and is a common cause of allergic symptoms from Labor Day through Thanksgiving. Other allergens have less defined seasons, and their levels will fluctuate throughout the year.
Allergy sufferers are more likely to also suffer from the following conditions:
- Frequent Sinus Infections
- Ear Infections
- Asthma and Bronchitis
- Sleep Disorders
- Migraine Headaches
Children with allergies are sometimes mistakenly diagnosed with ADHD due to their allergy symptoms interfering with their ability to concentrate in school.
Allergies and Houston
Houston is our home, and most of us will live here our whole lives. But when it comes to allergies, living in Houston makes treatment harder because the true allergy to dust mites, mold or pollen is superimposed on the non-allergic effects of the pollution, ozone and humidity. Many patients say they feel great when they travel elsewhere, only to have symptoms come roaring back as soon as they return. So, if you're going to live in Houston because of your job, or because this is where your loved ones are, then successfully treating allergies may require you to be a bit more aggressive. That means paying equal attention to avoiding dust mites or mold that you're allergic to, avoiding non-allergic triggers (e.g., cigarette smoke, perfume, etc), and seeking medical help.
At The Allergy Clinic, we separate allergy treatment into three branches: avoidance, medication, and immunotherapy (allergy shots). It often takes a combination of some or all of the three to provide a healthy resolution to your problems. See allergy treatment options for more information.