Allergies can be triggered by a myriad of reasons, but the result is the body reacts in a similar fashion to all these allergens (a substance causing a hyper-sensitivity reaction). Allergens are, in general, found to be the protein component of a non-noxious food, bacterium, or pollen/mold. In a normal immune system reaction, our bodies develop a powerful and specific immunity against invading agents such as lethal bacteria, viruses, and toxins. This is called acquired or adaptive immunity. The immune system forms sensitized lymphocytes (certain type of white blood cells) and specific antibodies from lymphocytes that attack and destroy the noxious (harmful) organisms or toxins. Sometimes the body gets confused about what it should be reacting against, and how severely it should be reacting. An “immune” reaction is useful against infections and chemical poisons. An “allergic” reaction is the same mechanism, but in response to an improper interpretation to a non-harmful substance. We can end up with unwarranted circulatory vasodilation and increased capillary permeability. This, in turn, allows for fluid swelling of tissues, contraction of bronchial smooth muscle in the lungs, and localized inflammation causing redness, heat, pain (scratchy irritation), and further swelling of tissues.
There are different types of allergies. One is the delayed sensitivity reaction type of allergy. This involves skin eruptions and rashes due to substances such as drugs and chemicals, particularly cosmetics and household chemicals, plus poison ivy and poison oak. Repeated exposure is the key to this kind of allergy, because our white blood cells eventually become hyper sensitized to such exposure.
Some people simply have an allergic tendency, genetically passed on from parent to child. Hay fever is the most common type. The nose is the body part showing the highest reaction in hay fever. There is also asthma, typically showing as lung bronchiole constriction; urticaria, which shows as an allergic skin reaction of hives; and anaphylaxis, which is a severe and widespread reaction of the blood system as circulatory shock (excessive capillary dilation and permeability).
For those who do have a genetic predisposition, what is the answer? Medications? They help, but can have a rebound effect. Just stay inside? That hardly seems reasonable, and even unfair. The trick is to learn about the different kinds of allergens, and to reasonably reduce one’s exposure to them, gradually learning which allergens trigger a reaction in you. The body reacts to these different “stressors” in a cumulative fashion. If we can (1) cut down on the total amount of stressors placed upon us, and (2) work to support our bodily mechanisms that tend to overreact in allergies, many people with allergies can often lead allergy-free lives. (Allergies Part III next week.)
(Dr. Richard Hanson, chiropractor in Jamestown, New York, can be reached at (716)664-0445. Most major insurances are now being accepted.)