What is an allergy?
An allergy is an excessive reaction of the immune system to small particles - the allergens - that hit the skin and mucous membranes. If such an allergen lands on the mucous membranes of the nose, eyes or bronchial tubes, the immune system, as the body's defence system, forms so-called antibodies that are directed precisely against a certain antigen. The antigens (allergens) can be very variable, e.g:
- Animal epithelia
- Pollen, grasses
- Insect venoms (bees, wasps)
- House dust mites
- Food / salicylates (aspirin)
If such an allergen meets the body, nothing noticeable happens for the person at first contact. However, the immune system recognises the allergen as a potential threat to the body and reacts by forming antibodies. If there is then a second contact with the antigen, it is recognised and combined by the antibodies. This leads to the release of messenger substances, especially histamine, which can trigger a local inflammatory reaction, but also reactions in more distant parts of the body. In summary, one could say that an allergy is an overreaction of the immune system to actually harmless substances (allergens), which the immune system mistakenly classifies as threatening.
An allergy can make itself felt through the following complaints:
- Nose: rhinitis, sneezing attacks
- Eyes: conjunctivitis, burning eyes, tearing.
- Bronchial tubes: Coughing, strained breathing, shortness of breath, bronchial asthma.
- Skin: hives, itchy wheals, neurodermatitis
- Gastrointestinal: abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, flatulence
- Systemic: heart palpitations, shock, circulatory arrest.
- Cross-allergies between pollen and certain foods or spices are also possible.
Allergies have been known since ancient times. Various studies from England show that the incidence of allergies has been steadily increasing, especially in recent decades. An increase in childhood and adolescence is particularly noticeable. Especially in industrialised countries and in cities, the number of new cases has increased rapidly. It is estimated that 15-20% of the German population is affected by allergies today, 30% are considered predisposed. More than 90% of allergies are localised in the ear, nose and throat area.
If you experience any of the above symptoms after eating certain foods or at certain times of the year, see an allergist to have an allergy ruled out.
Possible test procedures are:
For the therapy of an allergy, there are different therapy options depending on the allergen and the severity of the allergy.
In the first place, the avoidance of the symptom-triggering allergen is important. If this is not enough, taking medication all year round or seasonally can be useful. In the case of nasal reactions, so-called topical steroids, i.e. cortisone-containing nasal sprays that act exclusively on the nasal mucosa, offer a good therapy option. For more severe allergic reactions, it may also be necessary to take cortisone tablets or bronchodilators. It is also useful to have controlled hyposensitisation with the triggering allergen carried out in addition to acute inpatient therapy in the case of strong reactions of the body, such as shortness of breath or a shock reaction.
Possible therapy methods are: