Allergy - Symptoms And Treatment

The concept of "allergy" was originally introduced in 1906 by the Viennese pediatrician Clemens von Pirquet, after he noted that some of his patients were hypersensitive to normally innocuous entities such as dust, pollen, or certain foods. An Allergy is a disorder of the immune system. A variety of tests now exist to diagnose allergic conditions; these include testing the skin for responses to known allergens or analyzing the blood for the presence and levels of allergen-specific IgE. Treatments for allergies include allergen avoidance, use of anti-histamines, steroids or other oral medications, immunotherapy to desensitize the response to allergen, and targeted therapy.

What Is An Allergy?

A disorder of the body's immune system is referred to as an Allergy. Allergic reactions occur to normally harmless environmental substances known as allergens; these reactions are acquired, predictable, and rapid. Strictly, allergy is one of four forms of hypersensitivity and is called type I (or immediate) hypersensitivity. It is characterized by excessive activation of certain white blood cells called mast cells and basophils by a type of antibody known as IgE, resulting in an extreme inflammatory response. Common allergic reactions include eczema, hives, hay fever, asthma attacks, food allergies, and reactions to the venom of stinging insects such as wasps and bees.
Mild allergies like hay fever are highly prevalent in the human population and cause symptoms such as allergic conjunctivitis, itchiness, and runny nose. Allergies can play a major role in conditions such as asthma. In some people, severe allergies to environmental or dietary allergens or to medication may result in life-threatening anaphylactic reactions and potentially death.

Signs And Symptoms Of Allergy

Many allergens such as dust or pollen are airborne particles. In these cases, symptoms arise in areas in contact with air, such as eyes, nose and lungs. For instance, allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, causes irritation of the nose, sneezing, and itching and redness of the eyes. Inhaled allergens can also lead to asthmatic symptoms, caused by narrowing of the airways (bronchoconstriction) and increased production of mucus in the lungs, shortness of breath (dyspnea), coughing and wheezing.
Aside from these ambient allergens, allergic reactions can result from foods, insect stings, and reactions to medications like aspirin and antibiotics such as penicillin. Symptoms of food allergy include abdominal pain, bloating, vomiting, diarrhea, itchy skin, and swelling of the skin during hives. Food allergies rarely cause respiratory (asthmatic) reactions, or rhinitis. Insect stings, antibiotics, and certain medicines produce a systemic allergic response that is also called anaphylaxis; multiple organ systems can be affected, including the digestive system, the respiratory system, and the circulatory system.
Depending of the rate of severity, it can cause cutaneous reactions, bronchoconstriction, edema, hypotension, coma, and even death. This type of reaction can be triggered suddenly, or the onset can be delayed. The severity of this type of allergic response often requires injections of epinephrine, sometimes through a device known as the EpiPen or Twinject auto-injector. The nature of anaphylaxis is such that the reaction can seem to be subsiding, but may recur throughout a prolonged period of time.
Substances that come into contact with the skin, such as latex, are also common causes of allergic reactions, known as contact dermatitis or eczema. Skin allergies frequently cause rashes, or swelling and inflammation within the skin, in what is known as a "wheal and flare" reaction characteristic of hives and angioedema.

Common Symptoms Of Allergy

Affected organ Symptom
Nose swelling of the nasal mucosa (allergic rhinitis)
Sinuses allergic sinusitis
Eyes redness and itching of the conjunctiva (allergic conjunctivitis)
Airways Sneezing, coughing, bronchoconstriction, wheezing and dyspnea, sometimes outright attacks of asthma, in severe cases the airway constricts due to swelling known as laryngeal edema
Ears feeling of fullness, possibly pain, and impaired hearing due to the lack of eustachian tube drainage.
Skin rashes, such as eczema and hives (urticaria)
Gastrointestinal tract abdominal pain, bloating, vomiting, diarrhea

Allergy Diagnosis

Before a diagnosis of allergic disease can be confirmed, the other possible causes of the presenting symptoms should be carefully considered. Vasomotor rhinitis, for example, is one of many maladies that shares symptoms with allergic rhinitis, underscoring the need for professional differential diagnosis. Once a diagnosis of asthma, rhinitis, anaphylaxis, or other allergic disease has been made, there are several methods for discovering the causative agent of that allergy.
For assessing the presence of allergen-specific IgE antibodies, allergy skin testing is preferred over blood allergy tests because it is more sensitive and specific, simpler to use, and less expensive.
Various blood allergy testing methods are also available for detecting allergy to specific substances. This kind of testing measures a "total IgE level" - an estimate of IgE contained within the patient's serum.

Allergy Treatment

Traditionally treatment and management of allergies involved simply avoiding the allergen in question or otherwise reducing exposure. For instance, people with cat allergies were encouraged to avoid them. While avoidance may help to reduce symptoms and avoid life-threatening anaphylaxis, it is difficult to achieve for those with pollen or similar air-borne allergies. Strict avoidance still has a role in management though, and is often used in managing food allergies.

Pharmacotherapy

Several antagonistic drugs are used to block the action of allergic mediators, or to prevent activation of cells and degranulation processes. These include antihistamines, cortisone, dexamethasone, hydrocortisone, epinephrine (adrenaline), theophylline and cromolyn sodium. Anti-leukotrienes, such as Montelukast ( Singulair ) or Zafirlukast (Accolate), are FDA approved for treatment of allergic diseases.
Anti-cholinergics, decongestants, mast cell stabilizers, and other compounds thought to impair eosinophil chemotaxis, are also commonly used. These drugs help to alleviate the symptoms of allergy, and are imperative in the recovery of acute anaphylaxis, but play little role in chronic treatment of allergic disorders.

Immunotherapy

Desensitization or hyposensitization is a treatment in which the patient is gradually vaccinated with progressively larger doses of the allergen in question. This can either reduce the severity or eliminate hypersensitivity altogether. It relies on the progressive skewing of IgG antibody production, to block excessive IgE production seen in atopys. In a sense, the person builds up immunity to increasing amounts of the allergen in question. Studies have demonstrated the long-term efficacy and the preventive effect of immunotherapy in reducing the development of new allergy.
Meta-analyses have also confirmed efficacy of the treatment in allergic rhinitis in children and in asthma.A review by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester confirmed the safety and efficacy of allergen immunotherapy for allergic rhinitis and conjunctivitis, allergic forms of asthma, and stinging insect based on numerous well-designed scientific studies.
Additionally, national and international guidelines confirm the clinical efficacy of injection immunotherapy in rhinitis and asthma, as well as the safety, provided that recommendations are followed.
A second form of immunotherapy involves the intravenous injection of monoclonal anti-IgE antibodies. These bind to free and B-cell associated IgE; signalling their destruction. They do not bind to IgE already bound to the Fc receptor on basophils and mast cells, as this would stimulate the allergic inflammatory response. The first agent of this class is Omalizumab. While this form of immunotherapy is very effective in treating several types of atopy, it should not be used in treating the majority of people with food allergies.
A third type, Sublingual immunotherapy, is an orally-administered therapy which takes advantage of oral immune tolerance to non-pathogenic antigens such as foods and resident bacteria. This therapy currently accounts for 40 percent of allergy treatment in Europe. In the United States, sublingual immunotherapy is gaining support among traditional allergists and is endorsed by doctors who treat allergy.
Allergy shot treatment is the closest thing to a cure for allergic symptoms. This therapy requires a long-term commitment.



Considerable portions of the text here is from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allergy and is reproduced here under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License