The term “allergies” encompasses a wide variety of things. In fact, it can be used to describe any type of allergic response or allergic reaction by your body’s immune system after being exposed to a foreign substance, called a trigger. These triggers fall into four main categories which we can consider the top four types of allergies.
Let’s dive more into the common types of allergic disease, common symptoms, how to get a diagnosis, and the available treatment options.
Types of Allergies & Most Common Triggers
The four main categories of allergies are seasonal, food, drug, and environmental. Each of these categories has a series of triggers that fall within them that are the most common across the population.
Seasonal allergies, or seasonal allergic rhinitis, are one of the leading causes of symptoms for people across the United States. Most of the time, seasonal allergies are caused by a pollen allergy. Common triggers for those with a pollen allergy are trees, grasses, and weeds.
The species of trees, grasses, and weeds that cause problems vary by geographical region. For instance, in Florida, Ragweed is a popular allergen versus in California, Wormwood varieties are a problem allergen. The times of the year also play into seasonal allergies, hence the name, though like the allergens change with geographical regions, so do the times of year that are the worst.
Food allergies are another common type of allergic disease. This is where your immune system negatively responds to certain foods. Some of the most common food allergies include tree nuts like almonds, cashews, or pecans, peanuts, shellfish, milk, wheat, and egg allergies.
A large number of people also have food intolerances which are not full allergic reactions to certain foods, but a more mild ones. Gluten and dairy are two frequent food intolerances.
You have probably been asked if you have a drug allergy when you go to the doctor. This is because having an allergic reaction to medications is another popular type of allergic disease.
There are a lot of medications that people are allergic to; however, one of the most common types of medications that cause problems is antibiotics.
Environmental allergies are the final type of allergic disease. This category is when your body’s immune system has an allergic reaction to substances found in your environment. Though this type can also technically include seasonal allergies, environmental allergies encompass more than pollen and is not typically affected by geographical region or time of year.
Common triggers in the environment around you include dust mites, insect stings, and mold. People can also have pet allergies caused by pet dander or other animal dander. Having a latex allergy is another frequent trigger that falls into this category. Environmental allergens can also be other simple things like soaps, detergents, and makeup.
Common Symptoms of Allergies By Type
Though the response from your immune system is relatively the same regardless of the trigger, the types of allergies can cause different symptoms.
Seasonal Allergy Symptoms
Seasonal allergy symptoms as a whole are sometimes referred to as hay fever. These symptoms include things like a runny nose, itchy and watery eyes, nasal congestion, and sneezing.
Those who have a severe allergic reaction to pollen, the culprit of seasonal allergies, can even have allergic asthma. Allergic asthma causes difficulty breathing which is frightening and can be dangerous.
Food Allergy Symptoms
For those with common food allergies like to tree nuts or egg allergies, the symptoms can be mild like extra mucus production, stomach discomfort and bloating, skin allergies or rashes, itching, or a more severe allergic reaction that causes swelling, difficulty breathing, or anaphylaxis.
Drug Allergy Symptoms
Drug allergy symptoms are often similar to food allergies as they are both usually ingested. Rashes and stomach discomfort are the most frequent allergic reactions to drugs or medications, but those severe reactions as described above can and do happen.
Environmental Allergy Symptoms
Skin allergies like contact dermatitis are the most commonly occurring symptom of environmental allergies. Unlike atopic dermatitis which is a skin condition that looks similar but isn’t solely caused by the environment, contact dermatitis is almost exclusively caused by a reaction to one or more allergens you have made contact with within the environment.
Other environmental allergies like pet allergies can cause nasal symptoms and those that are similar to seasonal allergies.
There are three main ways to diagnose any type of allergy.
The first way of allergy testing is with a blood test that measures Immunoglobulin E (IgE). IgE is an antibody produced by the immune system when it overreacts to a foreign substance. There are various types of IgE each one specific to different allergens. This is why you can be allergic to one thing and not another.
Scientists have isolated the IgE for the most common allergens allowing them to see if you have higher levels of IgE for specific allergens. For instance, if you have a latex allergy, your blood could be tested for the level of IgE specific to latex.
A skin test is another way of allergy testing, though it's most commonly used if seasonal allergies or pet dander allergies are suspected rather than food allergies.
With this method of testing, small amounts of various allergens are scratched or injected into the skin to see the level of immune response you have to it. The more of a response, the more severe your allergy is.
History and Physical
The final way allergies can be diagnosed is through a thorough history and physical. This is where a medical provider takes a look at any physical symptoms and asks questions that may help them determine what you are allergic to.
For instance, they may see a red, itchy rash and the presence of a runny nose and ask about any changes in their environment. If in this example, you had recently brought home a dog, they may determine that you are allergic to animal dander.
Though a history and physical can be less exact than a skin or blood test, it’s far less invasive and can usually gather enough information to treat your symptoms properly.
Allergy Treatment Options
Regardless of which allergy testing you go with or whether you get any specific diagnosis at all, you have a few treatment options for your allergy symptoms.
The first and easiest allergy treatment is simply lifestyle modification and avoidance of your triggers.
For example, if you are allergic to dust mites you’ll want to do things to keep dust at bay like washing your sheets in hot water often, using pillow covers, and even getting someone else to clean dusty areas in your home.
If you are allergic to insect stings, then you should avoid going outdoors when insects are prevalent. For seasonal allergic rhinitis, you’ll want to monitor pollen counts and avoid opening windows or going outside during high counts. This can be applied to any allergen that you suffer from.
The most popular treatment for allergy symptoms is medications. These can come in the form of oral medications, nasal sprays, or even creams for skin reactions. Each has its benefits and disadvantages, but nasal sprays are the gold standard for allergic rhinitis symptoms including nasal congestion and runny nose which are the most prevalent.
The final treatment option is immunotherapy with shots or drops. With allergy shots or drops, small amounts of allergens are given to you in order to train your immune system to have less of a response to your individual triggers. This takes a long time and can cause increased symptoms in the meantime so it’s often saved as a last resort.
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