Allergies happen when your immune system reacts defensively toward a substance that is not normally harmful. Your immune system usually filters out and attacks the things that are harmful to your body. An allergic reaction occurs when the body treats a non-harmful substance as a threat and releases a flood of chemicals to fight that threat.

Reactions vary from mild to very severe. Sometimes you can have an allergic reaction even if you don’t normally. Some allergies are caused by pollen, dust or mold only in the air during certain seasons.

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What are allergy symptoms?

Allergic reactions can vary from person to person. Some of the most common symptoms are:

  • Itchy skin
  • Itchy eyes
  • Hives
  • Redness or rashes
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose or stuffy nose
  • Swelling of tongue and/or throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest tightness and wheeziness
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion

Common allergens and causes of allergic reactions:

  • Pollen
  • Dust mites
  • Mold spores
  • Pet dander
  • Food
  • Bee and other insect stings
  • Medicines

What is anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock is the most serious kind of allergic reaction. Your body releases a flood of chemicals that causes your blood pressure to drop and your airways to narrow and block your breathing. The reaction begins very quickly and can be life-threatening. If you have severe allergies, make sure you talk to a healthcare provider about taking the necessary precautions. If you or someone you know experiences anaphylaxis, call 911 immediately.

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How are allergies treated?

Because there are so many different kinds of allergies, the treatments vary, too. Mild and seasonal allergies can sometimes be treated with over-the-counter antihistamines. These medicines block the symptom-causing chemical your immune system releases during the reaction.

Allergy medications are available as:

  • Pills
  • Liquids
  • Inhalers
  • Nasal sprays
  • Eye drops
  • Shots
  • Skin creams

Some medications are available over-the-counter, while others need to be prescribed. You can also avoid the substances that cause allergic reactions. For example, people allergic to peanuts should never eat anything with traces of peanut.

When allergies seem more severe or have symptoms that don’t improve, you may need an allergy test.

If you are experiencing allergy symptoms or think you may be allergic to something, seek a healthcare provider for a prescription or further testing.

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