What is Allergy?
More than 50 million Americans suffer from allergic conditions, allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the united states, causing decreased productivity and lost time from work and school for millions of individuals.
Physicians have found that allergic diseases can be controlled and their debilitating symptoms can be prevented or minimized. The key is the early diagnosis of the allergic condition and identification of the allergens responsible.
Allergy is defined as the tendency to develop adverse symptoms due to an immune response to normally innocuous substances. A huge variety of agents found in the environment can provoke an allergic response.
Commonly encountered allergens include substances such as mold spores, pollens, animal dander, dust, foods, venoms and drugs. Allergen exposure can occur through inhalation, ingestion, contact with skin or injection- either intentionally as occurs with certain medications or inadvertently as occurs through an insect sting.
The first step in the diagnosis of allergy involves recognition of characteristic symptoms identified from the patient’s clinical history and exam.
Several commonly encountered allergic symptoms are (A-I):
AAnaphylaxis- this rapid, systemic reaction is associated with hypotension and shock. Can be fatal if not treated properly. Causes range from food to insects to drugs.
BAngioedema- associated with swelling while the skin may appear normal. Patients with angioedema usually complain of pain or burning rather than itching. This condition occurs as the result of increased fluid within the deeper, cutaneous layers of the skin. The cutaneous layers contain fewer mast cells and sensory nerve endings than the dermis. Angioedema typically involves the face, tongue, extremities or genitalia.
CAsthma- a chronic inflammatory disease that is characterized by airway obstruction and constriction of the bronchi of the lungs. Asthma can be a debilitating condition and results in many hospital admissions. Over three-quarters of patients with asthma can be shown to have sensitivity to at least one common allergen or suffer from allergic rhinitis.
DAtopic Dermatitis- a chronic or recurrent inflammatory skin condition that occurs frequently in young children, approximately 15 percent of the population in the united states are affected by atopic dermatitis at some time during childhood, and the prevalence is increasing. During the early years there often is a correlation with food, indoor, outdoor allergies, so identification is important.
EConjunctivitis- inflammation that results in itching, redness and tearing of the eyes.
FContact dermatitis- this condition differs from atopic dermatitis in that it is caused by the direct contact of an allergen with the surface of the skin. It is the most common occupational disease and one of the most commonly acquired skin diseases in adults. Common causes are makeup, perfume, dye, gold, and other metals.
GRhinitis- a very common condition that is caused by inflammation of the nasal mucous membranes. This condition produces sneezing, running nose, nasal itching and congestion. Individuals with either allergic or non-allergic rhinitis (Vasomotor) often suffer from nasal hyper-reactivity, a condition associated with increased nasal response to a normal stimulus (such as cold air or strong odors) producing symptoms associated with rhinitis. Other diseases like hormone imbalance, thyroid disease, and use of certain medication can contribute to this condition.
HSinusitis- acute or chronic infection of sinus chambers. May be allergic, infectious (mold, or bacteria), or inflammatory.
IUrticaria- a red, itchy rash that blanches with pressure. This condition occurs as the result of dilated blood vessels and increased fluid within the outer layers of the skin (dermis) and occurs virtually anywhere on the body.