When you wake up in the morning, sneezing, you don’t need to look at the calendar to know your allergies have returned. The nose knows! Let’s break down all the why’s and how’s of allergies.
What are allergies?
Allergy is the modern day expression of an ancient defense system designed to protect us from, of all things, parasites. Parasites were once the most common reason for the death of children, so having an aggressive antibody system was crucial. People with allergies represent the genetic superiority of their ancestors. People with allergies live longer and have fewer cancers than those without allergies.
In modern society without exposure to parasites, this antibody system may attack innocent airborne proteins which may have some of the genetic codes of parasites—an accident of nature.
Infections in children often stimulate the immune system to defense. If stirred up, people with this genetic tendency may mistake Mountain Cedar pollen or Ragweed as an enemy and use the anti-parasite antibody to attack them with a normal body chemical, histamine.
When histamine is activated, it fights against pollens, molds and foods and causes itching, sneezing, wheezing and swelling. That’s why antihistamines work in allergy.
When and why do people develop allergies?
Most allergies start in childhood when children get the continual virus infections that plague them until older—it’s part of the defense. Allergies get less intense in adolescent when the number of upper respiratory viruses begins to wane.
You do not outgrow this genetic trait, and the syndrome usually returns for women in their twenties and men in their thirties. Some patients have a big rebound from allergies following a cancer treatment. This is also a part of the defense system.
What are the signs and symptoms of allergies?
If it doesn’t itch, it probably isn’t an allergy! While isolated congestion is sometimes seen, more often than not, allergic conditions of the nose itch and have a clear watery drainage. Since asthma and allergies are often carried on the same genes, asthma is very often allergy related and the treatments can be very effective in combatting both symptoms.
How are allergies treated?
Allergies are best managed by avoiding the exposure to what gives you an allergic reaction. Many forget that even our hair is often clogged with pollen. Sleeping in pollen laden hair is a problem, so washing the hair or covering it is a prime example of avoidance.
If you can’t avoid it, antihistamines are effective if taken early and used at much higher doses than usual under a physician’s advice. The most powerful tool is nasal steroid sprays, but constant use may produce some problems including an increased incidence of upper respiratory infections.
If you suffer from severe allergies, find an allergy and immunology physician at Baylor Scott & White Health.
About the author
This content has been written or reviewed by a member of the Baylor Scott & White Health medical staff.