When our immune systems are hypersensitive to common elements in the environment, we are said to be suffering from allergies. Food allergies, atopic dermatitis, hay fever, allergic asthma, etc are common allergic diseases that affect us when our immune systems are triggered by ordinary elements in our environment. A part of the body's immune system- immunoglobulin E antibodies (IgE), that attaches to an allergen and then to a receptor on mast cells or basophils where it triggers the release of inflammatory chemicals such as histamine is what causes allergies or allergic reactions.

Common allergens in the environment are pollen, bee venom, pet dander, mould, etc. Common food allergens include milk, peanuts, wheat products, shellfish in the West. However, Indians report more allergies towards foods like brinjal, cucumber, ladies' finger and papaya. Some physicians estimate that with a population of over a billion, at least 3% of Indians may suffer from food allergies. With peanuts being a common staple food, it's also estimated that over 30,00,000 Indians are allergic to peanuts.

Allergic symptoms range from mild (skin irritation, watery eyes, or sneezing) to severe (anaphylaxis). If left untreated allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis may result in itchy rash, swelling of the throat or tongue, shortness of breath, vomiting, dizzines , low blood pressure, and may be fatal. Administering epinephrine (adrenaline) immediately controls severe or life-threatening anaphylaxis. The sooner a dose of epinephrine is administered, the greater the chances for survival.

Doctors broadly categorise allergies into:

Food - Eggs, peanuts, food additives i. e., thickeners, dyes, and monosodium glutamate (MSG), etc.; Dust - Dust mites, cockroaches, mould, pollen- many people may experience allergic reactions in their eyes, nose and lungs; Insect Stings- Wasps, honeybees and even mosquitos cause pain, swelling and redness; Pets- fur (cats, dogs) and feathers are the usual triggers; Drugs - Antibiotics, analgesics, and anti- seizure medications.

Diagnosis

Allergic diseases need to be diagnosed properly for treatment and immunotherapy to commence. There are several allergy tests to narrow down the allergens or allergy 'triggers'. These tests help in treatment- avoidance, medication, and immunotherapy.

Treatment

The best treatment is Avoidance: Identify the allergy trigger or allergen and avoid it. Keep your home and surrounding clean- vacuuming and dusting the bedroom is important as we spend 1/3rdof the day there. Control the air quality in the house & filter out air-borne allergens like dust or pollen- keeping windows closed. Avoid pets- find out in advance whether a home you are visiting has pets. Even entering a home with a cat or dog may trigger an extreme reaction. People who are allergic must not dust or clean and must also be kept away while these tasks are performed. Healthcare providers also note that allergic reactions are higher immediately after dusting, vacuuming, and cleaning the house. Avoid carpets, throw rugs, and fuzzy blankets, towels and bedspreads, as these tend to 'catch' dust mites, mould, and insect fragments.

Medication

Your healthcare provider will determine a course of prescription medicines to control symptoms. Over- the- counter medication and antihistamines can ease minor allergic reactions such as nasal congestion or allergic 'conjunctivitis'. Ice and topical creams containing corticosteroids could reduce swelling, redness, and itching. Acetaminophen reduces pain.

Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening condition for which doctors prescribe emergency epinephrine injections (EpiPen). These 'Pens' are autoinjectors loaded with a single dose of medication that can be injected into a patient's thigh.

Once a person has experienced anaphylaxis at least once, doctor prescribe emergency epinephrine autoinjectors. The medication must be replaced by the expiration date, if it hasn't been used. Family and close friends must be educated on how to administer the medication during an emergency.