What are allergies?
Allergies come from an overactive immune system
. Your immune system protects you against bacteria and viruses. When you have allergies, your immune system wrongly tries to protect you from harmless things like pollen or animal dander
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How do you get allergies?
You probably inherit them. We're all born with immune systems that are capable of overreacting to harmless substances. You must be exposed to a particular substance at least once before you can become allergic to it.
Allergies often begin in the teenage years, but you can develop them at any time in your life. Girls are more likely than boys to get allergies. back to top
What things trigger allergies?
You can be allergic to anything, but some things are more inclined to cause allergies than others. The most common triggers of allergies are:
What are the symptoms of allergies?
- pollen, especially from trees, grass, and weeds
- mold spores, which are everywhere, like pollen, except they are around all year long
- dust mites
- animal dander
- certain foods, such as nuts
- cigarette smoke back to top
If you're allergic to a particular thing, you'll know it. You'll start to get sniffly and sneezy when you're around it. Here are the symptoms of allergies:
How can I find out if I have allergies?
- stuffy nose
- runny nose
- watery eyes back to top
You can usually tell that you have allergies if being around certain things seems to give you symptoms. For example, you can tell that you have a ragweed
allergy if you get symptoms each year during ragweed season (from mid—August to mid—September). Or you're probably allergic to cats if you sneeze a lot or your nose starts to run whenever you go near a cat.
You can go to an allergist
to get tested for allergies. She or he will do some skin tests
to confirm your allergy or to identify what is causing an allergy. In skin testing, tiny amounts of various substances (such as pollen or dust mites) are applied directly to your skin through a tiny, sterile pinprick. If the area turns red within a few minutes, you are allergic to that substance. back to top
How do you treat allergies?
If you know that you're allergic to something, you should try your best to avoid it. For example, if you have an allergy to cats, you should try to stay away from cats.
Some things are harder to avoid than others. If you're allergic to dust mites, you'll have to take special steps to avoid them. Dust mites live in stuffed or upholstered items. They thrive in bedrooms. To avoid dust mites, you have to wrap your mattress in a mite—proof plastic cover. You should also wash your pillow and comforter every 3 to 4 weeks in hot water and dry it in a hot dryer.
Sometimes it's impossible to avoid the substance causing your allergies. You just can't avoid all the pollen from plants, grasses, and trees. So your only choice is to treat the symptoms. You can choose from lots of nonprescription allergy medicines that are sold in the drugstore and supermarket. If you have severe allergies, you can get prescription medicines from your health professional to provide more relief.
Some people who have severe allergies also take steroids
through an inhaler
. Steroids are powerful medications that reduce inflammation
. You need to see a health professional to get a prescription for these medications.
Some people are able to overcome their allergies by being slowly exposed to the substance they are allergic to. This process is called getting allergy shots or desensitization
. It usually involves getting many shots over several months. The shots contain tiny amounts of the substance that is causing the allergy. In some cases, you can get used to the substance and you won't be bothered with symptoms anymore. back to top