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What is allergy?

Allergy is a reaction that happens when the body’s immune system reacts to a normally harmless substance. The occurrence of allergic diseases is increasing in India. Allergic reactions can vary from mild symptoms to severe life-threatening reactions.

Why do allergic reactions happen?

Allergic reactions are immune mediated i.e. mediated by the body’s defence system. The immune system is designed to attack and destroy substances harmful to the body. However, in people at risk of allergy, the immune system recognizes the harmless substances as a threat, resulting in an immunological reaction. Once alerted, the immune cells release several chemicals including histamine in the body which cause allergic reactions.

What are allergens?

Allergens are proteins which do not produce any symptoms in the clear majority of people. But they cause symptoms in people at risk of allergy (also called as atopic individuals). Exposure to these allergens can occur through food, air or contact. The common allergens include house dust mite, pollen, foods like milk, eggs etc.

How do we recognize allergic reactions?

Allergic reactions commonly involve the skin, eyes, nose, lungs and intestine. The symptoms of allergic reactions depend on the body part involved. Depending on the body part involved, they can cause eczema, allergic rhinitis, asthma and food allergies.

How do we confirm the diagnosis?

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Allergy is suspected mainly by a detailed history of symptoms in the patient. The diagnosis can be confirmed by few investigations. Some of the available diagnostic tests include skin prick testing and blood tests (specific IgE).

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How do we treat the allergies?

The best way to treat allergies is to avoid the allergen causing the symptoms. However, this may not be possible in all the patients. In these patients, antiallergic medications are given to relieve the symptoms. In some patients, newer forms of treatment like immunotherapy can be tried. In most of the patients, once the diagnosis is made, it is not difficult to treat them. The above treatments should be guided by an expert in allergy.

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