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The Human Body's Reaction to Allergens

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 0
Microscopic view of pollens
Credit: wikimedia common - Dartmouth Electron Microscope Facility

Have you ever wonder why some people have allergies and others don’t? Honestly, there are no substantial explanations about this topic. Some experts say that it’s genetics while others relate it to immunology. But, one thing is certain. An allergic reaction is your body’s response to foreign substances known as allergens. It can vary from food, medications, airborne substances and in rare occasions climate change. Depending on your allergen, once direct or prolonged exposure occurred, your immune system will attack these substances. This will eventually lead to an allergic reaction. To give you a better view, in this article you will read about what happens inside your body during the development of allergies.

Antibodies and histamine

As mentioned earlier, the development of allergies starts with exposure. Once you’ve been exposed to an allergen, your body’s immediate response is to release antibodies and histamine.

First is antibodies. The human body has different types of antibodies. Your immunoglobulin E (IgE) is mostly associated with allergies. If your body detected any unfamiliar substance, this specific type of antibody will attach itself to these substances and eventually destroy them. When the battle between allergen and IgE begins, it will inevitably injure other cells such as the mast cells. As of today, the specific role of mast cells in the human body is still a mystery. However, if it endures some damages, it will consequently trigger release of histamine. Hence, the third stage of the development of allergies is the release of a body chemical known as histamine. 

Allergic symptoms

The next stage in the development of allergies is when allergic symptoms manifests. Basically, when histamine production occurs it will cause itchiness, redness and swelling. In rare occasions, it can cause muscle spasms which will eventually lead to anaphylaxis. For that reason, anti-allergy drugs are medically designed to stop histamine production and  slowly cut-down the histamine levels of your body. Hence, the term “antihistamine drugs” is commonly used to denote these types of medications. However, during extreme hypersensitivity reactions namely anaphylactic shock, epinephrine is immediately administered. Why is this so? This is because, epinephrine is the only chemical that can abolish or obliterate histamine within seconds. 

Progression

The last stage in the development of allergies is progression. This is when an allergen has caused further irritation and damage to your body or organ. Take allergic rhinitis for example. Its allergic symptoms are itchy nose and eyes. Once it progresses; nasal congestion, light sensitivity and facial aches will occur. This is because it already progressed into an infection and inflammation. Hence, antihistamines alone will only ease your discomfort but not treat the condition per se. For that reason, you have to consult a physician to get the necessary treatment for your condition.

Anaphylactic shock has the same process. At first, it will manifest as minor allergic symptoms. However, unlike other types of hypersensitivity reaction, during anaphylaxis your body goes into overdrive. What does this mean? Basically, when this happens your body released too much amount of antibodies and histamine. This will evidently cause extreme or intensified allergic reactions. Typically, excessive amounts of histamine would lead to increase in heart rate, decrease in blood pressure, difficulty in breathing and eventually unconsciousness. Difficulty in breathing is due to the inflamed tissues around your throat causing airway blockage. Without enough air, your body would slowly shut down. If epinephrine is not administered right away, the development of allergies will unfortunately lead to death. Hence, people with allergies should always be cautious. In addition to that, as much as possible you should have enough stocks of medications for allergy.

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Bibliography

  1. Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD "Hay Fever." Medicine Net. 12/11/2012 <Web >
  2. Susan McQuillan "How do Allergies Develop?." Livestrong. 22/11/2012 <Web >
  3. "What is Histamine?." Gold Baum. 22/11/2012 <Web >
  4. "Allergic Reaction: Recognizing Severe Responses." Allergy and Diabetic Health. 22/11/2012 <Web >
  5. "Allergies and Anaphylaxis." Web MD. 22/11/2012 <Web >

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