Understanding allergies: Causes, symptoms, and management

Allergy Common allergens

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Allergies are common health issues that arise when the bodys immune system overreacts to foreign substances such as pollen or certain foods that trigger a range of uncomfortable and sometimes serious symptoms.  In India, the estimated prevalence of allergic rhinitis was  3 to 11% in children aged 6 to 7 years and 24.4% in those aged 13 to 14 years. 

Causes of allergies 

When an individual is first exposed to an allergen, they may not cause any allergic reaction. However, over time, with repeated exposures, the immune system recognizes the allergen as a threat and produces a specific type of antibody called immunoglobin E (IgE). This IgE binds to certain types of cells, which in turn release chemical substances that trigger allergic symptoms. One of these chemicals, called histamines, causes the muscles in the airways and blood vessels to constrict. It also stimulates the lining of the nose to produce more mucus.  

Pollens, dust mites, pet dander, mold spores, certain foods, insect stings, specific medications, and contact allergens are common allergens. Allergies can also be hereditary.


An allergic reaction causes inflammation and irritation. The specific symptoms of an allergic reaction depend on the type of allergen and the severity of the inflammation and irritation. The symptoms of an allergic reaction depend on the type of allergen and can range from mild to severe. Common symptoms include: 

  • Respiratory symptoms: Recurrent sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, cough, wheezing, shortness of breath. 
  • Skin symptoms: Itching, hives, swelling. 

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms: Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, abdominal cramps, diarrhea (common with food allergens). 

  • Anaphylaxis: It is a serious and potentially fatal allergic reaction that can impact various systems in the body, particularly the skin and respiratory system. It may lead to breathing difficulties, sudden decrease in blood pressure, rapid heart rate, and even loss of consciousness. Anaphylaxis necessitates prompt medical intervention.  


It is important to seek medical advice if there is any doubt of having an allergic reaction. Allergists perform tests such as skin prick tests and blood tests to identify specific allergen-triggering reactions. 

  • Skin prick test: This test is recommended when allergies are suspected. The procedure involves injecting small drops of different allergens on the skin of the forearm, with adequate spacing. Then, the surface of the skin where the allergens are pricked is observed for an allergic reaction. 
  • Patch test: This test is designed for individuals who experience allergic symptoms one to three days after encountering an allergen. It involves applying a patch containing the suspected allergen on the skin for one to two days and observing whether the skin becomes swollen, red, or itchy.  
  • Blood test: In this test, food and inhalant allergens are detected in the blood. 

It is important to note that not all allergens can be detected through skin prick tests or blood tests.  

Management and prevention 

It is important to understand allergens to manage them effectively. Avoiding allergens is a key management method, but it may not always eliminate allergic reactions. It is often impossible to prevent the development of allergies, but taking certain precautions can help reduce the risk. Here are some of the methods through which allergies can be managed: 

  • Avoidance: The best way to manage allergies is to avoid the allergens that trigger the allergic reactions. This might involve using air purifiers, regularly cleaning living space, and avoiding certain foods. 
  • Medications: Antihistamines, decongestants, and corticosteroids can help alleviate allergic symptoms. For severe allergies, allergists might recommend epinephrine injectors to manage anaphylaxis. 
  • Immunotherapy: Allergy shots (subcutaneous immunotherapy) and oral or sublingual immunotherapy can gradually desensitize the immune system to allergens, reducing the severity of allergic reactions over time. 
  • Education: It is important to understand allergies and their triggers. If an individual is at risk of anaphylaxis, it is recommended to always carry an allergy action plan and educate those around about the condition. 

Allergies can significantly impact the quality of life, but the allergic reaction can be minimized by acquiring correct knowledge and appropriate management strategies. If there is any suspicion of allergies, it is advisable to consult an allergist for proper diagnosis and guidance on managing the condition. Early intervention and proactive management can make a world of difference to lead a comfortable life despite allergies.