Spring is finally here again. We look forward to the first rays of sunshine and want to spend as much time as possible in the fresh air. For around 15 percent of adults and around 25 percent of children, however, spring with its associated pollen count is pure agony because they suffer from an allergy.
The term “allergy” comes from the Greek – “allo” means foreign and “ergon” stands for reaction. The allergy has already become a widespread disease in the industrialized countries, with the frequency increasing every year. It is believed that the tendency to allergies is innate.
Allergies are caused by a defensive reaction in the body. The immune system recognizes certain substances as dangerous and foreign. To protect the body, a defense process is set in motion. This is a useful response to hazardous substances. In the case of harmless substances such as pollen, food components or animal products, this body reaction is problematic. An allergy is an over-sensitivity of the immune system to foreign substances – the allergens.
If a certain substance is classified as dangerous by the immune system, antibodies are formed which react with certain structures in the skin and in the mucous membranes. Various tissue hormones are released. The most important hormone in this context is histamine.
Histamine is a tissue hormone that is stored in nerve cells, basophilic granulocytes and mast cells. It plays a crucial role in the allergy reaction chain. Together with other inflammatory mediators, histamine leads to a severe dilation of the blood vessels. Fluid escapes within seconds to minutes and typical allergic reactions such as itching, tears, shortness of breath, redness, edema and runny nose occur.
Allergens are naturally occurring protein bodies which cause the formation of antibodies in allergy sufferers, although they do not pose a threat to the body. They can be absorbed through breathing (inhalation allergens) or through the mouth (food or drug allergens). Furthermore, there are allergens that come into contact with the skin (contact allergens) or get into the body through insect bites or injections (insect bites and injection allergens).
If the immune system has ever reacted allergically, it retains the memory and if it comes into contact with a certain substance again, an allergic reaction occurs repeatedly. Some pollen and certain foods contain common allergens. Patients who are allergic to the tree pollen birch or hazel are also allergic to apples and hazelnuts because they contain the same allergy trigger. In this case, there is talk of a cross allergy .
The two most common allergy types are food intolerance and immediate type allergy.
Immediate type allergies make up approximately 90 percent of all allergies. Reactions are based on the production of specific immunoglobulins E (IgE), antibodies against harmless antigens. Sources of allergens are pollen, animal hair, food and its components, house dust mites, insecticides, molds and cross allergies. In the case of allergies of the immediate type, the body reacts within seconds to a few minutes with hay fever, allergic asthma, conjunctivitis, swelling of the mucous membranes, headaches, hives, edema or fatigue.
A food intolerance is based on the production of immunoglobulin G Class 4 (IgG4) in response to certain foods. Since these foods are usually consumed on a daily basis, it is difficult to identify the responsible food. Sources of allergens can be cow’s milk, wheat, chicken eggs, soy, lactose, histamine-containing foods, gluten or fructose. The body reacts to the food 1 to 24 hours or even days after consumption. Symptoms include itching of the mucous membranes with scratching and swelling in the mouth and throat, cough, shortness of breath, hives, eczema, diarrhea, flatulence, vomiting, colic, neurodermatitis, arthritis, fever, swelling of the face, lips and tongue as well as conjunctivitis or Runny nose.
The type of treatment depends on the severity and type of allergy. The simplest form of treatment consists in avoiding the allergy triggers. In some cases, however, this is only possible to a limited extent. Eye drops, nasal sprays or creams are available for the local treatment of allergies. In addition, antiallergic drugs are usually used in tablet form. A vaccination cure as a treatment is recommended for patients with allergic rhinitis or allergic asthma. However, it is tedious and takes several years to complete.
In general, in any case, you should see a doctor at the first signs of allergy, as an allergy test shows the exact allergy spectrum and makes it easier to avoid the triggers.