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What are allergies?

Allergies occur when your immune system reacts to an “allergen” — a usually-harmless foreign substance such as dust, pollen, pet dander, or food. Your immune system responds to these allergens by trying to fight them off like a germ or virus, which causes physical symptoms such as sneezing, itching, hives, shortness of breath, and more. These physical symptoms can range from mild symptoms like sneezing or itching to anaphylaxis, a severe, life-threatening reaction.

How can I tell if I have allergies?

Do you get a stuffy nose and itchy eyes when spring flowers start to bloom? Do you get hives from petting your friend’s dog? Do you get dizzy or nauseous when you eat fish? Sneezing, wheezing, itching, swelling, difficulty swallowing, stomach cramps, vomiting and more can all be symptoms of allergies. You may notice that you experience these symptoms at certain times of the year, in certain environments, or when you eat certain foods. An allergist can help you identify your specific allergic triggers and make a plan for managing your symptoms.

How common are allergies?

Allergies are very common in both children and adults. According to the CDC, more than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies each year, and allergic conditions are the 6th most common cause of chronic illness in the U.S. Around 4% of adults in the U.S. have food allergies, along with 4-6% of children.

What causes allergies?

It’s difficult to say why some people’s immune systems react to substances that are normally harmless (“allergens”), but genetics likely plays a role for some people. Parents with allergies are more likely to have children with allergies, but reactions to specific allergens are not passed down. If your mother is allergic to peanuts, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will also be allergic to peanuts — but it does mean you’re more likely to have some kind of allergies.

How do I treat my allergies?

Allergists are specially trained to diagnose and treat your allergies so that you can take back control of your life. They will conduct testing to identify your allergic triggers and work with you on a plan to help you avoid your allergens and manage your symptoms. They may also prescribe medication or allergy immunotherapy.

If you are at risk for a severe reaction, especially if you have a food allergy, your allergist may prescribe an epinephrine auto-injector. Be sure to carry your auto-injector with you, and always have two doses available. Use your epinephrine auto-injector immediately if you experience a severe reaction — the risks of not using it far outweigh the risks of an unnecessary dose of epinephrine.

What are some common allergies?

There are many different types of allergies. Some people are allergic to dust, pet dander, pollen or mold. Others are allergic to latex, or certain drugs or insect stings.

Food allergies are also common. Any food can cause an allergic reaction, but the eight most common food allergens are eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, soy.

What should I do if I have an allergic reaction?

It’s best to avoid coming into contact with your allergic triggers as much as possible. It may be difficult to entirely avoid some allergens, or you may be accidentally exposed, so it’s best to be prepared and have a plan in case of a reaction.

Your allergist may recommend over-the-counter or prescription medications which can help to alleviate allergy symptoms like sneezing or itching.

Use your epinephrine auto-injector immediately If you experience severe symptoms such as shortness of breath, repetitive coughing, weak pulse, hives, tightness in your throat, trouble breathing or swallowing, or a combination of symptoms from different body areas, such as hives, rashes or swelling on the skin coupled with vomiting, diarrhea or abdominal pain. In some patients, the severe reaction can happen again, so use a second dose if necessary. Call (or have someone else call) for emergency medical services and tell them that epinephrine was administered.

If you’re not certain whether your reaction is severe enough to need epinephrine, use it. The risks of using epinephrine are much lower than the risks of a severe allergic reaction.

Is there a cure for my allergies?

No. However, depending on the type of allergy, immunotherapy treatment may help your body to become less allergic to your triggers, which can help you live more comfortably and decrease the risks of a severe reaction.

Some people grow out of allergies. For example, children often outgrow food allergies to milk, egg, soy and wheat. However, there is no guarantee that any specific person will outgrow their allergies, and there is no way to predict whether it will happen.

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