What are Allergies? The main function of the immune system is to protect the body against viruses, bacteria, and other harmful substances. When you are experiencing allergies, your body is trying to protect you from a substance that is not really harmful – like peanuts, grass, or cat dander. The substances that trigger allergic reactions are called allergens, or sometimes antigens. When exposed to an allergen, the immune system releases histamine, a chemical that causes sneezing, itchy eyes, nasal congestion, and other uncomfortable allergy symptoms. (You may be familiar with the group of allergy medications known as antihistamines, which counteract the histamine your body is releasing.) What am I allergic to? Allergies can be caused by the following triggers: Animals Dust Environmental factors (cold/hot temperatures, sunlight, etc.) Food (peanuts, fish, eggs, etc.) Latex Medications Mold Pests Pollen (trees, weeds, grasses, etc.) Types of Allergies Allergic Rhinitis (Hay Fever) Urticaria (Hives) Allergic Conjunctivitis (Eye Allergies) Possible Causes & Risk Factors Allergies are pretty common, affecting at least 20% of Americans. Both environmental factors and genes play a role in determining if you will experience allergies. Though you will not inherit a specific allergy from your parents, the likelihood that you will have allergies is increased if both of your parents do. Allergies can make other medical conditions worse, including eczema, asthma, and sinus problems. Possible Symptoms of Allergies Allergy cough Itchy, burning, or tearing eyes Conjunctivitis (red, swollen eyes) Diarrhea Hives Itchiness (skin, nose, eyes, mouth, throat, etc.) Runny nose Shortness of breath Rashes on your skin Stomach pain or cramps Vomiting Wheezing The symptoms you experience depends on what part of your body that the allergen has come into contact with. For example: Allergens you inhale may cause itchy nose, itchy throat, nasal congestion, excess mucus, allergy cough, or wheezing. Allergens that come into contact with your eyes can cause red, itchy, watery, swollen eyes. Allergens you ingest may cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, cramping, nausea, vomiting, or anaphylaxis. Allergens that come into contact with your skin may cause a rash, itching, hives, or blisters. Treatment The first step in treating allergies is to know what allergens trigger your symptoms and to try to avoid them. Your NYC allergist can help you determine what your triggers are by performing allergy testing, and he or she will work with you to find ways to minimize your exposure to the allergens that affect you. Your allergy doctor in NY could also recommend prescription or over-the-counter medications. Allergy shots (also known as immunotherapy) may be recommended if it is difficult to avoid your triggers, or if your allergy symptoms are difficult to control. Allergy shots work by desensitizing your body to your allergic triggers so that when you are exposed to an allergen in daily life, your body is less likely to overreact. Allergy shots are a commitment – you will have to follow a regular injection schedule and visit with the allergist often. Shots also do not work for all individuals. Your New York doctor will discuss the benefits and risks with you so that you can make an informed decision about immunotherapy. Anaphylactic reactions (severe, life-threatening reactions) should be treated immediately with epinephrine. You should also seek emergency care. Summary If you need help with your allergies, the associates and specialists at NY Allergy & Sinus Centers can help. NYASC has access to the latest testing and treatment, and we offer convenient allergy & asthma clinics throughout NYC: Murray Hill, Midtown, Upper West Side, Chelsea, and Queens. We can also find relief for your nasal and sinus problems, asthma, ear, nose, and throat (ENT) symptoms, skin conditions, and respiratory allergies. We see both adult and pediatric patients. To make an appointment, call NYASC at 212-686-4448.