Allergies are on the rise, affecting as many as 30 percent of adults and 40 percent of children. Several theories have been postulated to explain the rising prevalence, from changes in our diet (increasing consumption of junk food) and the way food is grown (GMOs and pesticides) to exposure to chemicals in the environment and our ultra-hygienic way of living.
Although researchers continue to explore the underlying cause of allergies, we can explain what is happening in the body of those afflicted. Allergies occur when the immune system overreacts or reacts inappropriately upon exposure to an otherwise harmless substance—the allergen. For those with seasonal allergies, the triggering substances are trees, grass, or flower pollen. The immune system recognizes these substances as foreign and responds by producing antibodies, which trigger the release of inflammatory chemicals, including histamine, leukotrienes, and prostaglandins. Histamine is responsible for the notorious allergy symptoms of itchy eyes, a runny nose, and sneezing; leukotrienes cause excess mucus production, and prostaglandins trigger inflammation.
Allergies and colds share some common symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, congestion, and sinus pain and pressure. So how do you tell the difference? A cold usually lasts seven to 10 days, whereas allergy symptoms persist much longer— weeks to months. Sneezing associated with allergies often occurs in rapid and multiple sequences; those with a cold are more likely to experience sporadic sneezing. Mucus secretions are clear or runny with allergies, but often yellow or greenish with a cold. In addition, allergies often cause itchy eyes, nose, and mouth or throat.
Having an allergy skin test is the quickest and most accurate way to determine your specific allergy triggers. Knowing your triggers is important so that you can take steps to avoid them. An allergy skin test is an easy procedure: The skin is lightly pricked with an allergen (such as grass or flower pollen) and after 20 minutes the doctor checks for an allergic reaction, such as redness and swelling.