If you have allergies, you may find that they affect your body in different ways. Allergy-related conditions generally involve the head (eyes, nose, mouth, throat, and ears), the lungs, the stomach tract, or the skin, all of which are involved in the body's frontline of defending itself from foreign substances. Different allergy-related conditions may occur together because they involve shared passageways in the upper respiratory tract. Also, people with allergies often have more than one of these conditions because of their hypersensitive immune systems. For example, many people with asthma also have allergic rhinitis ("hay fever").
Allergic rhinitis, commonly referred to as "hay fever," affects 30 - 60 million people annually in United States. The term "rhinitis" means inflammation of the lining of the nose. Common symptoms include stuffy and runny nose, itching, and sneezing. (There are other potential causes of these symptoms unrelated to allergies, like the common cold.) Allergic rhinitis can be seasonal or year-round, depending on what you are allergic to Some people think that "hay fever" happens only during warm months, often not realizing that symptoms they have in the winter are due to allergic rhinitis. Read more about allergic rhinitis.
Asthma is a chronic lung disease where the airways narrow, resulting in coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, or chest tightness. Pollen and other allergens can trigger asthma. In many patients with asthma, however, an upper respiratory tract infection like a cold or exercising may trigger an asthma attack. Read more about asthma.
"Sinusitis" refers to inflammation of the nasal sinus cavities, which are hollow spaces in the bones of the skull located behind the nose and eyebrows. Sinusitis (either acute or chronic) can be caused by infection, allergic inflammation, nasals polyps, or bone structure abnormalities, which interfere with the draining of the sinuses. Symptoms may include facial pain, headache, stuffy and runny nose, discolored mucus (yellow or green) draining from the nostrils, cough, diminished sense of smell, bad breath, fever, or pressure in the ears. Read more about sinusitis.
Ear infections and otitis media
The term "otitis media" means inflammation of the middle ear, often due to colds or allergies. The inflammation often leads to ear infections. Early signs are ear pain and discomfort. Children may have trouble sleeping, lose their appetite, or show signs of irritability. Otitis media occurs most often among infants and young children because their inner ears are less developed and at an angle where bacteria and other irritants can easily enter through the throat. Read more about otitis media.
Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the lining of the eye. Symptoms include red, itchy, and tearing eyes. Conjunctivitis can be caused by allergies or infection. Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis is common and usually occurs with allergic rhinitis. Like the nose, the eye is easily irritated by airborne allergens in the environment. Allergic conjunctivitis usually affects both eyes, while conjunctivitis from a bacteria or viruses affects only one eye at a time. Read more about conjunctivitis.
Dermatitis is inflammation of the skin. There are several types of dermatitis that are allergy-related, including atopic dermatitis (also called "eczema") and contact dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis usually appears in the first few years of life as a recurring itchy rash. Contact dermatitis appears as an intensely itchy, red, and blistery rash after contact with an allergen, like poison ivy.
Hives, also called urticaria, appear as red, itchy, raised welts on the skin that look like mosquito bites. Acute urticaria is often an allergic reaction to food or drugs and often lasts only a few days. Acute urticaria begins soon after exposure and affects 10 - 20% of people at least once in their life. Chronic urticaria can last longer than 6 months and is typically not related to allergies. The cause is often unknown. Read more about hives.
Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate emergency medical treatment. Anaphylaxis is an immediate immune system reaction during which histamine and other chemicals are released all over the body. If not treated right away, anaphylaxis may cause shock or death. The most common non-medication allergens that cause this type of reaction include insect sting venom, peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish. Read more about anaphylaxis.
Early signs of anaphylaxis include tingling in the lips, feet, or hands, flushing, tightness in the throat and chest, and difficulty breathing.
Paula J. Busse, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Clinical Immunology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY, Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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