It is spring time, and if you live in Kentucky, this means more than horse races and bluegrass. It means things are blooming, your eyes are watering, and you feel like a wadded up ball of sandpaper has set up camp in your throat, permanently.
I am not a native Louisvillian. I moved here from just 60 miles north eight years ago, but oh what a difference those measly 60 miles make when it comes to breathing.
This year I waved the white flag and went to an allergist. I have learned much about what causes me to react and what I can do to soften the blow – pun totally intended. Allergy shots have started, mattress and pillows have been sufficiently guarded against dust mites, air filters changed, and the dogs are still sleeping with us. Oh well, there are some things I won’t change.
Our Australian Shepherd/Sheltie dog, Cady, who likes to sleep with her tongue sticking out.
Through this process I have also learned more about allergies in general. Allergies are over-reactions of the immune system to generally harmless foreign proteins and substances. When a person is exposed to an allergen for the first time, the body develops molecules called antibodies against the invading proteins. This is called an immune response.
When exposed to the allergen again the immune system produces large amounts of antibodies that lead to breakdown of mast cells that contain chemicals like histamine. This leads to the features of allergies.
This process is known as sensitization. Sensitization may take days to years. Sometimes sensitization develops as the affected person shows symptoms but never fully develops the antibody to the allergen. This is why you can live somewhere for, say, eight years, and your symptoms get worse each year.
Allergic reactions can sometimes be more than a runny nose and sneezing. They can be life threatening and require urgent emergency management.
When it is that severe it is referred to as anaphylactic shock. Anaphylaxis involves the whole body and presents itself as:
- swelling of the throat and mouth and clogging up of airways leading to difficulty breathing, speaking or swallowing
- rash and itching elsewhere in the body
- weakness and collapse often with unconsciousness due to sudden fall in blood pressure
Like most things in life, there are classifications of allergies too.
Type I hypersensitivity: This is also known as immediate or anaphylactic-type reactions. This may be caused by pollen, foods, drugs and insect stings.
Type II hypersensitivity: This involves specific antibodies called the Immunoglobulin G (IgG) and IgM. Antibodies bind to and destroy cells. This type of reaction is seen after an organ transplant when the body refuses to see the transplanted organ as its own.
Type III hypersensitivity: This is an immune complex-mediated reaction. The immune complex is the bound form of an antibody and an antigen. This leads to a cascade of reactions in the body that goes on to destroy local tissues. Examples of this condition include glomerulonephritis and systemic lupus erythematous (lupus, SLE).
Type IV hypersensitivity: Delayed or cell-mediated reactions are mediated by special immune cells called T-cell lymphocytes. The T cells take from a few hours to a few days to mount an allergic response. Examples include contact dermatitis such as poison ivy rashes.
Most allergies are found in type I hypersensitivity. This includes allergic rhinitis characterized by runny nose, watery eyes and sneezing.
There are two major categories: seasonal allergic rhinitis (SAR) and perennial allergic rhinitis (PAR). While SAR is associated with exposure to pollen at certain seasons, PAR occurs almost year-round. Allergic rhinitis affects an estimated 20-40 million people in the United States.
Other varieties of type 1 reactions are food and drug allergies, and allergies due to insect venom. Insects that may lead to allergic reactions include bees, wasps, yellow jackets, ants, hornets etc.
Allergic asthma is also a type I allergic reaction. This occurs when the allergen is inhaled. Common allergens include pollen, animal dander, fungal spores or molds, dust mites etc. There is severe wheezing, shortness of breath, cough and thick mucus secretions.
There is comfort to be found in knowing my allergies are in the Type I category – glass half full and all that, although I have always reacted pretty severely to poison ivy, which is in Type IV. The solution to that is to let your husband pull the weeds in your flower garden.
Melody K. Smith
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