What comes to mind when you think of allergies? Do you think of sniffling and sneezing from pollen, or peanuts and penicillin?
Allergies can encompass the entire body and what makes one person sick doesn't bother the other. Why? People can be allergic to anything from apples to zucchini, and their responses can be just as varied, but one thing is for sure, allergies are becoming more common around the globe.
First, let's look at what allergy technically means. The word itself is based from the Greek word "allos" meaning an altered action or reaction and was first used in the early 1900s.
An allergic reaction happens when your immune system gives an amplified response to a trigger, otherwise known as an allergen.
For example, if you're allergic to grass pollen that means your immune system is having an exaggerated response to an allergen ( the grass pollen).
Getting rid of your symptoms isn't as easy as taking a Claritin. Most people assume their allergies have something to do with their bodies making too much histamine, so they take medications thinking that'll work, but there's a lot more to it than just that.
There are different types of allergies, different kinds of hypersensitivities, plus categories of allergens, so you can understand how diagnosing a particular allergy can be quite tricky.
What's Happening Inside My Body?
When an allergen enters your body, your immune system is alerted, and there are a few ways your body can respond. There are four categories of hypersensitivity; we define these by the amount and type of antibodies your body produces for the allergen.
Before we get into more detail, let's meet five-year-old Timmy and learn how an allergic reaction starts.
The first time the body is exposed to a trigger it usually doesn't show any symptoms. If little Timmy touches poison ivy for the first time and doesn't break out, that doesn't mean he's not allergic to it. Allergic responses almost always happen in the second or third exposure. The first time Timmy came in contact with the poison ivy, his body remembered it and built antibodies just in case those pesky ivy triggers returned. By the second time he's exposed, his body releases those antibodies, and by the third and fourth exposure, Timmy's immune system is in full war mode; to put it more simply this reaction is a learned behavior by the immune system.
Timmy has an allergic reaction to poison ivy because his immune system created antibodies called immunoglobulins. Immunoglobulins are proteins that act like antibodies inside the immune system. There are various kinds of immunoglobulins and doctors typically measure these to diagnosis the allergy.
After the body creates the immunoglobulins, they adhere to the allergens and release mediators, substances released from cells, like histamine to make Timmy itch and swell.
In the most common allergy reaction, a Type 1 Allergy Response, the antibody that the body creates is called immunoglobulin E (henceforth referred to as IgE). The IgE antibodies attach themselves to the allergen then releases what I like to think of as toxic gas, but they're called mediators (like histamine), into the tissues with a bang. Several types of immunoglobulins produce responses inside the body, but IgE is the most common.
Timmy's infected arm is red, and he can't stop itching it, so his mother decides it's time to visit the doctor.
Timmy's mom sits next to him in the allergist's office while the doctor performs a "scratch test" on her son.
Skin tests like this are looking for swelling or redness created by the IgE antibodies when they come in contact with various allergens.
Blood tests to determine allergy look for the presence of IgE antibodies in the bloodstream. But allergies go beyond just the antibody IgE.
Several other immunoglobins cause responses in your body that your doctor doesn't always look for.
Dr. Devi Numburipad writes in his book "Say Goodbye to Illness," "The activation of immunoglobulin type E (IgE) antibodies causes what the traditional medical profession calls 'true' allergies; however, millions of people experience various allergic symptoms every day in varying degrees without producing these antibodies. These types of reactions can be called either intolerance or hypersensitivity."
Here's a breakdown of a few critical immunoglobulins:
IgM is the first antibody released in an allergic reaction (think first responders)
IgE is the most common antibody released in allergic response (think itching)
IgG is the primary antibody in the blood protecting us against bacteria and viruses. It also creates a delayed allergic reaction from a few hours to even days. (think Lyme's after a tick bite)
IgA These antibodies are formed when allergies are related to the mucous membranes. (think congestion)
Putting that information into allergy terms, IgE and IgM antibodies are responsible for the immediate reactions and hypersensitivity to a particular trigger. IgA is the antibody associated with mucus. IgG produces a delayed response to an allergen from hours to even days later. Some people only have IgE antibodies in their bloodstream, but most have more than that, giving us a far better picture of what's going on.
If you have an allergic reaction, your doctor will more than likely perform a scratch test to look for the IgE antibodies, just like little Timmy. But if you're experiencing symptoms related to Lyme's, your doctor will take a blood test and search for the IgG and IgM antibodies. If you're only looking for IgE antibodies, you may be missing something.
But just like there are many immunoglobulins and mediators your immune system produces, there are several types of hypersensitivity.
While we're waiting on Timmy's scratch test results, let's learn about the different types of hypersensitivity with allergies.
TYPES OF HYPERSENSITIVITY RESPONSES
TYPE 1 SENSITIVITY
Type 1 Allergy is the most common and includes asthma, eczema, hives, hay fever, and conjunctivitis.
"In type 1 hypersensitivity, B-cells are stimulated (by CD4+TH2 cells) to produce IgE antibodies specific to an antigen. The difference between a normal infectious, immune response and a type 1 hypersensitivity response is that in type 1 hypersensitivity, the antibody is IgE instead of IgA, IgG, or IgM" via Wikipedia.
TYPE 2 and 3 HYPERSENSITIVITY
Type 2 and 3 are harder to diagnose because standard allergy tests are only looking for IgE. Allergy Types 2 and 3 are dependant on the impact of IgG-the antibody responsible for protecting us against viruses and bacteria- to amplify an allergic response. These types of allergies also produce the symptoms I see most often: food allergies, stomach pain, headaches, fatigue, and joint pain.
In Type 3 hypersensitivities, people experience reactions not just from outside forces, but from within their own bodies. IgG is a crucial antibody we need for a healthy immune response. A lack of enough IgG antibodies means you're more likely to suffer from recurring bacterial infections big or small, and people with autoimmune disease often have lower amounts of IgG antibodies circulating in their bloodstream and fewer T-reg cells, making for a weaker immune system.
TYPE 4 HYPERSENSITIVITY
Type 4 Hypersensitivity skips the entire "create antibodies, release mediators, and inflame" part and goes right into killer immune system mode, like a Code Red at the Pentagon, but there's a delayed response.
Poison ivy and oak are both examples of Type 4 Hypersensitivity because of the delayed response. In this type of reaction, the immune system bypasses creating antibodies and calls in the big guns named Helper Lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are white cells made to protect the body from disease and include B cells and T cells. The Helpers then recruit the Killer Lymphocytes. The Killers go right to the allergen and destroy, destroy, destroy. Sounds great until you realize that the Helper and Killer cells also produce mediators while they combat the allergen. Helper Lymphocytes are even involved in the damage that happens in RA, Crohn's disease, Hashimoto's, and other autoimmune diseases.
Allergy responses fluctuate and very rarely does anyone only have one reaction and one type of allergy, most often it's a mixture of many factors.
The allergist returns and writes in her patient file "IgE positive, moderate response/Type 4" then looks up to Timmy's mom. "Well, it looks like he's just reacting to poison ivy and symptoms should get better in a few days- no scratching- call me if you need anything else." and she slips out of the room.
Timmy's case was pretty open and shut, but many allergies don't just affect your nose or your skin. Weight gain, fatigue, bloating, brain fog, headaches, constipation, and joint pain are all symptoms of allergic reactions. "Allergy occurs when the part of your immune system that controls unwanted immune responses fails to function properly. It's actually an immune deficiency state that results in excessive inflammation." says Dr. Leo Galland in his book "The Allergy Solution."
Some allergies you can control, others reverse, and many you can prevent. But before you know how to fight back, you must first understand what you're working with, and it's not histamine, it's your immune system.
Numerous studies have proven that a stable and functioning immune system is essential for ridding yourself of allergy symptoms. The way we develop that strength is by eating a whole food diet with particular attention paid to foods that will support your immune system with the best flavonoids and phytonutrients.
If you're suffering frequent headaches, sinus infections, or fatigue there's a chance it's coming from an allergy. Understanding what your body is doing is essential before you pop that pill or walk into the doctor's office. Educate yourself and make sure you're being tested for the right antibodies and are receiving the proper treatment for your symptoms. Once you know the details, you can create a plan to prevent, control, and maybe even heal your allergies.
Allergies are complex, infiltrating every aspect of the sufferer's body. There are many types of hypersensitivity, and the immune system creates individual responses for each, but there are some things all of us can do to minimize the risk of an allergic reaction or quiet the symptoms.
Instead of reaching for the antihistamine or steroid first, try making these healthy changes in your life:
Try Oolong Tea
If you suffer from nasal congestion and/or sinus problems, then you'll want to try Oolong tea. It's a semi-fermented tea with a mild taste, rich in flavonoids and phytochemicals that have been proven to reduce mucus and lower allergic response for its users. Drink it, and you'll be able to breathe more comfortably with less congestion. Based on Chinese and Japanese studies most participants saw results within the first weeks of drinking oolong tea. Drink a total of four cups a day in small batches; low doses of flavonoids are more effective than large ones. You'll wake up less stuffy, and won't get as many sinus infections.
Get Rid Of Dust Mites
Do you wake up every morning congested and full of goo? It could be a dust mite allergy.
Most people with a "dust allergy" are just allergic to the dust mites. Dust mites like to hide in soft, warm places like pillows and mattresses, our towels, and even clothes. Only one gram of dust can contain up to 500 dust mites, and these bad guys contain a toxic enzyme that attacks your respiratory lining. Combining factors like dust mites, air fresheners, and old air filters are the ideal setting for people to develop asthma, eczema, sinus, and frequent headaches.
The best way to fight back is with clean HEPA air filters and by dusting your home. Wash your sheets every week in hot water to kill dust mites and buy mite-proof covers for your mattress and pillows. You'll notice an almost immediate difference in your sinuses and your nose will thank you.
Allergic To Mold?
There are over one hundred allergens in various yeasts and molds, and most people who are allergic to airborne mold are also hypersensitive to it when they eat it. Fermented drinks like beer and wine, cheese, and dried fruit (everything you need for a good party) are the biggest offenders. Even coffee can have mold and pesticides in it, so buy yours organic and reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals.
Believe it or not, just swapping your morning cup of joe and eating less toast in the morning can make a huge difference in how you feel.
Get Rid Of Air FRESHENERS
Downey undoubtedly makes the best fabric softeners and scented laundry supplies on the planet. Glade plug-ins seem to make a living room cozier, and bathrooms feel cleaner. But they're poisoning us.
Air fresheners, fabric softeners, antibacterial soaps, and perfumes have a ton of poisonous chemicals that cause itchy noses, swelling of nasal tissues and respiratory problems. About 250 million people used air fresheners in their homes in 2017, and all of them became exposed to harmful chemicals that damage their nasal pathways and even the nervous system.
Within one month of using air fresheners, you're promised to have built-up mucus and increased congestion. After several months of using perfumed sprays, damaging inflammation will begin to show in your respiratory tract. Kick your scented household goods out and exchange them for their natural counterparts. You can also try buying more plants to naturally clean and filter the air.
Making small changes can lead to significant differences in how we feel and interact with the world. All of these tips will absolutely work in reducing your allergies, and I hope you try them!
Hope is not easily defined, but impossible to embrace without faith. The more we search for meaning in what seems hopeless; we realize that our "hopelessness" is a state of mind, not a reality.
- Carol Bright
No matter how bad things get, you always have a choice. Choice is a God-given gift that you can employ at any moment of your life. We have choice because we have free will; an even greater gift.
When I'm mediating by my stream of consciousness, I have the choice of picking up my despair or allowing it to keep going. I may notice it, but I don't have to harbor that emotion.
It's easier said than done and even as I've been writing this Series on Love, I've heard my voice bounce off of the bedroom walls. "…Sure I'll go stand behind some table at the grocery store so people can walk by me and ignore me, cause that's what's gonna happen. Nobody ever buys anything from me anyway! Nobody wants what I have to offer. It's stupid."
Choice is a funny thing. When I make that sort of declaration I'm viewing the world through fear and then giving it hold over my future. You can just hear the defeat in my voice in the last two words. "It's stupid."
In this moment I have a choice to make on who I'm going to be- the woman who's afraid of everything or the woman who's afraid and does it anyway. I have the power of choice on how I'm going to respond in any given situation and so do you. You don't have control over everything that happens to you, but you have power over how you respond to it.
When you speak with low self-esteem it stems from your own fear. But, with the gift of choice, you can outsmart even the worst of what fear's got to dish out.
Hope is the answer. Hope is the result of faith, and faith the result of love. If you can love, you can have faith in the future and the hope which transcends all fear. It's fighting darkness with light and it all starts with choice.
If you choose to focus your thoughts on hope then you'll be hopeful. Seems a bit too simple right? Where ever your thoughts go, so will your actions. If I think people will laugh at me or throw tomatoes me, I'd probably end up hiding in my closet eating Nutella from the jar. But, if instead, I combat my fear with hope, I may just get enough courage to say hi to strangers and maybe, just maybe, make a sale.
"It's never worked in the past and I look awful; it'll be a disaster!"
"Everyone leaves in the end, I'll always be alone."
"No matter what I've done, it's never been good enough. What's the point?"
Some other examples:
"When I'm feeling unloved I want to go find people to share my love with."
"When I'm afraid of failure I want to remember failure's okay as long as I don't quit. "
"When I'm scared of the outcome I want to be at peace with myself."
One version speaks from fear while the other from love and we have the choice to decide. If you ask me, that's a pretty powerful gift- to decide who we will be.
Try the "When I'm ___, I want to ___." rule with your own fears to see how this equation stacks up against what fear uses. Don't let anybody talk you out of becoming who you want to be- even if it's you.
Anybody who has ever struggled to plant his feet onto the floor in the morning knows that life can be hard; it can be stressful; it can be overwhelming. But each of those negative, less than optimal feelings immediately takes a back seat to the inspirational power of hope.
- Shawn L. Anderson
Linda Lavender writes articles to help folks with Auto Immune Disease, Depression, Anxiety and other health related illnesses.