Allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S., and they affect more than 50 million Americans. When most people think of allergies, they conjure up the standard symptoms: sneezing, a scratchy throat, and red, itchy eyes. But there’s more to allergies than just the typical manifestations.
What causes allergies?
Allergies occur when the immune system overreacts. The system is designed to fight off harmful elements like germs and bacteria. But the immune system isn’t always the best “judge of character.” Sometimes it comes into contact with things like plant pollen and pet dander and lumps them into the same category as germs. Rather than just ignoring these harmless elements, it marshals all of its resources to attack them. It’s a self-defeating process that does nothing to affect the allergens themselves but many things to deplete the body.
One of the body’s favorite weapons is a chemical known as histamine, which leads to inflammation. When histamine causes swelling in the lining of the nose, for example, allergy sufferers will experience a stuffed-up nose. When histamine causes inflammation of the skin, itchy hives develop.
Allergies can cause a raft of symptoms as they wreak their havoc on the body. Here’s a look at “off-the-beaten-path” ailments that are linked to allergies:
- Asthma — More often than not, asthma occurs as a result of an underlying allergy. For example, our AllergyEasy physicians have treated many asthmatic athletes who were allergic to grass. One of these included a nationally-ranked youth golfer. When he was out on the course, his allergies would go wild—until he received allergy treatment. Allergies cause the airways to become inflamed and constricted, leading to wheezing and shortness of breath.
- Headaches — The majority of AllergyEasy patients list headaches as a symptom before starting treatment. Headaches are very common among allergy sufferers. The pain is often linked to allergy-induced sinus pain and pressure, but it may also result from allergic inflammation in the neck muscles or blood vessels in the head.
- Coughing — One of the most common symptoms of allergy is post-nasal drip. It can irritate the airways and lead to chronic coughing. Everybody gets a cough at some point, but when patients complain of a cough that just doesn’t seem to go away, allergies are often the culprit.
- Eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) — This ailment has long been confused with reflux and is marked by inflammation and irritation of the esophagus. It is rare but becoming more common each year. It currently affects 1 out of every 2,000 people of all ages. It is more prevalent in males and is hereditary in some cases. EoE is often accompanied by other allergy symptoms, such as rhinitis, asthma, and eczema. It is closely associated with food allergies, which are believed to cause the inflammation of the esophagus. Some patients try to manage the condition with steroids and acid suppressors, but these medications only affect the symptoms—not the underlying allergy. Sublingual immunotherapy (under-the-tongue allergy drops) has proven to be a more lasting eosinophilic esophagitis treatment because it addresses the underlying problem.
Rather than suffering with these lesser-known but highly troublesome allergy symptoms, treat the source of the allergy with allergy immunotherapy. See an allergy doctor for testing. Your physician can then recommend an environmental or food allergy treatment program. This can be achieved through subcutaneous immunotherapy (allergy shots) or sublingual immunotherapy (oral allergy drops).