We all know what allergies feel like. If you have seasonal allergies you know it because they drive you crazy giving you a runny nose and itchy, watery eyes. Every year you know when the elm trees fill out or the grass begins to grow in your Brooklyn neighborhood because your nose and sinus congestion tell you! If you are allergic to foods like peanut butter, you know that too because you may have had a more severe reaction like hives or trouble breathing. But what happens inside our bodies to cause these reactions?
Allergies occur when the body’s immune system overreacts to something it doesn’t like. Allergies are considered a chronic disease, but don’t let that scare you. It just means that they last a long time or occur frequently. When you are allergic to something, your body’s immune system makes immunoglobulin which is an antibody. The job of the antibody is to respond to things you are allergic to and warn you that your body doesn’t like them. When antibodies do their job you have what we call an allergic reaction.
For example, when pollen gets in your nose your body overreacts by sneezing to try to get rid of the pollen. If you come in contact with a cat and your body doesn’t like that, you may break out in hives or your eyes may become itchy. In worst case scenarios, your body goes overboard to tell you never to ingest a substance again, forcing you into anaphylactic shock- a severe allergic reaction that happens quickly and can involve many parts of the body at one time, including the lungs and the heart.
Anaphylactic shock is very dangerous and may cause death, but usually you have some warning before it gets to that point because it has sent you to the clinician. You know from that point on to avoid whatever caused the severe reaction, and to carry an Epinephrine auto-injector, called Adrenaclick®, EpiPen® or generic epinephrine, for rapid treatment.