Fred Ezeh, Abuja
The word allergy is frequently used, but only a few can confidently say what it means and how to possibly handle it.
Merriam Webster dictionary defined allergy as medical condition that causes someone to become sick after eating, touching or breathing something that is harmless to most people. It added that it causes exaggerated or pathological immunological reaction, such as sneezing, difficult breathe, itching or skin rashes to substances, situations or physical states that are without comparable effect on the average individual.
The dictionary further confirmed that allergy could have different effect on different people, depending on the strength of one’s immunity and exposure.
Some medical books defined allergy as a hypersensitive responses from the immune system to substances that either enter or come into contact with the body.
Anything can be an allergen if the immune system has an adverse reaction to it. A substance that causes allergic reaction is called an allergen. It could be found in food, drinks or the environment.
Many allergens are harmless and do not affect most people. If a person is allergic to a substance such as pollen, his immune system reacts to the substance as if it was foreign and harmful, and tries to destroy it. Some of the most common allergens are dust, pollen, and nuts. They can cause sneezing, peeling skin, and vomiting.
There are unconfirmed reports that 30 per cent of adults and 40 per cent of children in the United States have allergies, and they are mostly from pollen. A study published in JAMA Pediatrics reported that food allergies in children cost the US economy nearly $25 billion annually.
A medical doctor working with the FCT Health and Human Services Secretariat, Dr. Ahmed Mohammed Danfulani, explained that there could be internal and external agents that could trigger the allergic reaction.
He confirmed that allergic reaction, such as asthmatic reaction, could be inherited.
He also said allergy could be as a result of congenital abnormalities or hereditary cases. This means that the natural soldiers of the body could be weak and not appropriately attack the offending allergens.
According to him, there’s a difference between congenital abnormalities and hereditary cases. Congenital abnormality, he said, is always an isolated case in the family, whereas the hereditary case might just run in the family genetically.
Allergy comes with different symptoms that are not new to the body system. Some of the allergic reaction comes with inflammation and irritation. And the signs and symptoms depend on the type of allergen that unleashes the attack. It might occur in the gut, skin, sinuses, airways, eyes, and nasal passages.
Danfulani gave example of his secondary school classmate, who, by just drinking garri, could break down in sickness. The case might be different for other people.
There are medical evidences that confirmed that some allergic reactions could be seasonal. For example, hay fever symptoms peak between April and May, when the pollen count in the air is much higher. It creates similar irritations to the common cold but the causes are different.
In addition to other symptoms, dust and pollen allergy could come with blocked nose, itchy eyes and nose, runny nose, swollen and watery eyes, cough and others.
Skin reaction visit with flaking, itching, peeling of skin and rashes, among others, while food allergy is characterised by vomiting, swollen tongue, tingling in the mouth, swelling of the lips, face, and throat, stomach cramps, shortness of breath and rectal bleeding, among others.
There is also insect sting, which could also come with wheezing, swelling at the site of the sting, drop in blood pressure, itchy skin, shortness of breath, restlessness, hives, a red and very itchy rash that spreads across the body, dizziness, cough, chest tightness, anxiety and possible anaphylaxis, which is the last stage of allergy.
Prevention of allergy
Medical experts said the only way to prevent allergy is by avoiding the allergens. The first step in doing that is to identify the substances that trigger allergic reaction, with a prior knowledge that the substances that trigger it differs from one person to another. That is the best way to prevent allergy. Treatments could possibly help alleviate allergy symptoms, but patients will need to try to avoid exposure to specific allergens.
It might be very difficult in some cases that patient has to try. Avoiding pollen in late spring and summer is virtually impossible, and even the cleanest houses could still have fungal spores or dust mites.
Food allergies can be challenging to manage because traces of allergens can appear in unlikely meals. However, being vigilant about checking food packages could be a key way to avoid consuming certain allergens. Ensure proper allergy testing, to know what substances to avoid.
Danfulani said allergy comes in various forms, revealing that the worst of it all is anaphylaxis allergy, which could be life-threatening.
To diagnose an allergy, a clinician is expected to take a blood sample for diagnosis. Symptoms of allergy can be treated with some recommended drugs, but the allergy itself requires promo de-sensitisation.
Speaking further, the doctor explained that anaphylaxis allergy was the last and worst stage of allergy. According to him, it can be life-threatening if urgent intervention is not received from qualified medical doctor.
Although medical experts always advice that it should be treated as a medical emergency, research revealed that this type of allergic reaction presents several different symptoms that could appear minutes or hours after exposure to the allergen. If the exposure is intravenous, onset is usually between 5 to 30 minutes. But a food allergen could take longer to trigger anaphylactic reaction.
Researchers reported in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology that the most commonly affected areas in anaphylaxis are the skin and respiratory system.
Treatment for anaphylaxis
The EpiPen is one example of an epinephrine injector. It’s very vital for stopping anaphylactic reactions. Being regarded as a medical emergency, the patient might require urgent resuscitation, including airway management, supplemental oxygen, intravenous fluids, and close monitoring.
A patient experiencing anaphylaxis will need an injection of adrenaline into the muscle. Anti-histamines and steroids are often used alongside the adrenaline injection to achieve the expected result.
After the patient has been stabilised, doctors could further recommend admission in hospital for up to 24 hours for close observation, to rule out biphasic anaphylaxis, which is the recurrence of anaphylaxis within 72 hours with no further exposure to the allergen.
Patients who have had severe allergic reactions should always carry an epinephrine auto injector with them, such as the EpiPen, EpiPen Jr, Twinject, or Anapen. Doctors and health authorities always advise patients to wear a medical information bracelet or necklace with information about their condition.