Your hay fever mixture
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Allergy season is here, and if you're among the estimated 30-40 % of people who suffer from hay fever, you know this time of year can be especially challenging. But what is hay fever and how is it triggered? To understand what hay fever is and how to treat it effectively, we need to know a little about allergies and the immune system.
How does an allergy work?
When our body comes into contact with something foreign or unknown - such as pollen - the immune system recognizes that it is potentially harmful. The body then produces antibodies to fight off the "invader," but these antibodies also cause our bodies to release histamines (chemicals) that trigger symptoms such as sneezing, watery eyes, coughing, itching and constipation. This reaction, called an allergy, can range from mild to severe.
Can allergies appear suddenly?
The answer to the question of whether an allergy can appear suddenly is a complicated one. Your body's immune system can react differently to certain substances at different times in your life, so it's possible that allergies develop later in life. However, if you are an adult who is allergic to something for the first time, it is likely that you have been exposed to small amounts of the allergen earlier without realizing it and have developed a sensitivity over time. It's also important to know that while many allergies are present from birth or early childhood, they can lie dormant until triggered by exposure or stressors. The best way to find out if you have an allergy is to have a skin prick test or an immunoglobulin E (IgE) allergy test done by an allergist.
Are allergies permanent?
Contrary to the idea that allergies are permanent, there is a possibility that an allergy can actually disappear. The cause of many allergies is unknown, but certain changes in exposure or lifestyle can sometimes reverse them. This means that people who used to have allergies may not be affected in certain situations years later. For example, studies have found that some people overcome food allergies after avoiding allergens such as peanuts and shellfish for several years. However, this is not guaranteed in all cases, as environmental factors may also play a role. It is still uncertain whether an allergy will go away, and much of it remains a mystery to this day.
What happens in my body when I have an allergy?
The first step in an allergic reaction: sensitization
The first step of an allergic reaction is called sensitization. During this process, your body comes into contact with the allergen for the first time and begins producing antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE) that recognize the allergen as dangerous. The IgE antibodies then attach to the mast cells in your body and wait for further contact with the allergen.
The second step of an allergic reaction: activation
The second step is activation. This happens when you are re-exposed to the same allergen and the IgE antibodies that were previously produced during sensitization are triggered. When these IgE antibodies are triggered, they cause mast cells throughout the body to release histamine and other chemicals into the bloodstream, which can lead to inflammation and other symptoms such as itching or swelling.
The third step in an allergic reaction: resolution
The final step in an allergic reaction is resolution. This is when your body stops reacting to the allergen and inflammation or other symptoms subside on their own or with the help of antihistamines or other medications prescribed by your doctor. Depending on the severity of allergy symptoms, resolution can take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours after exposure ends.
The science behind hay fever
Hay fever is an allergic reaction triggered by pollen in the air. Pollen is released by plants such as trees, grasses and weeds at certain times of the year when they bloom. Depending on where you live, this usually happens between late spring and early fall. When these pollens enter our bodies through inhalation or contact with the skin or eyes, they can trigger a reaction in people who are allergic to them.
Is my immune system damaged?
No! The immune system functions exactly as it should; it merely perceives harmless substances like pollen as dangerous invaders that need to be fought. For this reason, people who suffer from allergies often have no other health problems - their immune system is completely normal; they just react differently than most people when exposed to certain allergens like pollen.
Can allergies be cured?
Unfortunately, not yet! However, there are many ways to reduce exposure to allergens like pollen so that symptoms can be better controlled or even avoided altogether. Some ways include avoiding outdoor activities when pollen levels are high, using air filtration systems at home and at work, wearing protective clothing such as face masks when needed outdoors, taking antihistamines before going outside during peak pollen season in your area, etc.