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Allergies - what you need to know

Every spring you know when the pollen comes out. You start sneezing, have watery eyes and are miserable for about 6 weeks, especially outdoors. Your neighbour is fine outside, but can’t eat shellfish without having a very serious allergic reaction which, if left untreated, could cause him to die. How can both of these reactions be allergies? What are allergies? What causes them, why do people get different ones and have different reactions? Can they be cured? What can we do for them?

What is an allergy?

An allergy is your immune system reacting to a common substance and treating it as if it were a harmful foreign substance. This substance is called an allergen. Between 10-30% of people are affected by allergies and this number is increasing. You can outgrow allergies over time and also develop allergies over time. You can also inherit a tendency to be allergic. If one parent has allergies, you have a 50% risk of having allergies and if both do, your risk is 75%.

Types of allergies

There are several types of allergies, including seasonal allergies, food allergies, pet allergies, plant allergies and insect sting allergies. Some are more common than others. Allergens can be in the air, such as pollens, mold, spores, dust mites and animal dander. They can be foods that we eat – some common foods that cause allergies are cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy and shellfish. They can be in response to things we touch, such as plants, nickel and other metals, dyes and cosmetics. And they can happen in reaction to things injected into our bodies, such as insect stings and medications.

Allergic symptoms

Symptoms of an allergic reaction vary, and so does the severity of an allergic reaction. Typical symptoms to airborne or touch allergens are itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, runny nose, rashes or hives (a rash with raised red patches). With food allergies, symptoms include stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea. Mild allergic reactions you may not even notice, while moderate reactions can make you feel like you have a cold or flu (without the fever). Severe reactions include anaphylaxis, where there is a whole body reaction that is so strong, it is life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.

Can allergies be cured?

A lot remains unknown about allergies – how they develop and why everyone’s reactions are different. Can they be ‘cured’? No. So what can you do about allergies? The first step is to see your healthcare provider if you think you have allergies. Tests can be done to confirm any allergies and decide what can be done about them. Some allergies might respond to desensitization or “allergy shots” but sometimes you’ll just be advised to avoid the thing you are allergic to – don’t be around cats, for instance.

Symptom Relief

For mild to moderate reactions to allergies you can’t avoid, such as seasonal pollens and molds, symptom relief can come from products you can get at your pharmacy. For children, you might try Life Brand Allergy Formula Liquid, or Clear Allergy Formula Liquid. There are Allergy Formula Caplets for adults too. If you need to stay alert, try one of the non-drowsy Life Brand products, such as Extra Strength Aller Relief, Allertin or Desloratadine tablets. For itchy eyes, there’s also Life Brand Allergy Eye Drops. Your pharmacist can help you choose which product is right for you. And remember to always read and follow the label carefully.