There are many things that can trigger allergies. Some of the more common of these include mold, pollen, pet dander, insect bites, peanuts, shrimp, latex, and medications. Less commonly, reactions can also be caused by water, exercise, the sun, and even wood.
Technically, an allergy happens when the immune system reacts to substances in the body or something that comes in contact with our skin or mucus membranes. Your immune system is designed to protect you from bacteria, viruses, and parasites. It also protects from other foreign substances it considers harmful.
Allergic responses typically affect the skin, gut, and respiratory tract. When your body sees something it considers an allergen, a type of white blood cell called a T cell produces a compound called Immunoglobulin E, or IgE. This is also known as an antibody. These IgE are capable of binding to specific allergens.
Specialized immune cells in our body, called mast cells, can also bind with these IgE compounds. These cells are found in high numbers close to the surfaces of our body. When IgE bind with mast cells, this starts an immune response specific to the triggering allergen.
Mast cells produce chemicals that can increase or decrease inflammation and alter tissue growth and function. Once your body creates a specific IgE antibody, it can remember how to make it for future exposures, sometimes even amplifying and quickening the response. This is why some allergies get worse over time.
The early phase response to an allergen occurs within minutes as the body tries to remove it. This is when chemicals, such as histamine and prostaglandins, are released and produce responses characteristic of an allergy. This includes sneezing, hives, swelling, itching, mucus secretion, and constriction of blood vessels. Sometimes the response can be so strong it is life threatening. Mostly it is just aggravating.
Later phases of response occur after several hours and can last for days and even weeks. During this time damage to tissue can occur along with distribution of a material called fibrin that helps build new tissue. This leads to scaring which leads to later problems, especially in the lungs.
Sometimes the body will mistakenly make an immunoglobulin antibody against its own self. This causes reactions where healthy organs and tissue are treated as foreign invaders. This is considered on autoimmune response.
An allergy to water is called aquagenic urticaria. It affects only 1 in 23 million people. They are sensitive to specific ions found in water, even their own sweat, and can avoid an allergic response by drinking distilled water.
Wood allergies are commonly understood for poison oak and ivy. But mahogany and teak, and other woods, can also be problematic due to chemicals called quinones. Some people are sensitive to the plicatic acids in pine and cedar and canít touch paper or use wooden pencils.
I wish I could claim I have an allergy to exercise, but for those that do, this is called exercise-induced anaphylaxis. Rapid movement, even walking, can cause hives and itching. Often, it is associated with a food item that was recently eaten.
To test for an allergy to a particular substance, labs will often look for a specific IgE antibody. There are more than 500 different allergens that can be identified in this way. There are other types of immunoglobulins that can be identified as well, including IgA, IgG, and IgM. These are considered when looking for an autoimmune disease.
There are different ways to treat allergies. The first is to avoid the triggering material. Secondly, you can reduce the symptoms through over-the-counter medications, prescriptive steroids, and natural antihistamines. I like quercetin, stinging nettles, bromelain, B vitamins, and N-acetyl cysteine. There are some therapies that seem to encourage the body to develop a tolerance to allergens. Treating gut issues and changing diet can also be important.
Come on down to talk more.
Scott Porter, a functional medicine pharmacist, is the director of the Center for Functional Nutrition at Sandpoint Super Drug and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.