An Introduction to Allergies

by Colleen Kaemmerer

Do you or does anyone in your family have these symptoms: sneezing, runny or congested nose (a "constant cold"), headache, cough, eye circles, eczema, fatigue, moodiness, or irritability? These are just some of the symptoms that can result from allergies.

I'm not a medical professional, but due to the allergies that my family and I have, the topic is an important one to me. Allergic reactions can be mild, life-threatening, or somewhere in between. While visiting web sites I found that there is disagreement about the diagnosis and treatment of allergies. In fact, there is disagreement as to what an allergy is. Strictly speaking, an allergy occurs when the body produces an immune system response to an allergen by producing an antibody called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). However, many people have reactions to food and other substances but don't produce this antibody - these reactions are sometimes referred to as sensitivities. Food sensitivities, for example, are often identified by using an elimination diet; basically, you remove one or more foods from your diet, then reintroduce them, noting any reaction or change.

Web sites dealing with allergies, therefore, can vary in the information and opinions that they present. However, a national task force of 21 major healthcare and medical organizations have pushed for more uniform diagnosis and treatment of various allergies, which affect one in five Americans. While many allergies are not life-threatening, the results (such as asthma, sinusitis, and ear infections) affect overall health and daily activities, often causing missed days from work and school.

I have found several excellent sites on the Internet dealing with allergies and I would like to share a few of these with you.

The Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology features an information section on asthma and different types of allergies, pollen and spore counts, a physician referral directory, and articles on some of the latest allergy findings.

The Food Allergy Network has product alerts, articles such as "Handling Food Allergies in School" and offers a newsletter for its members.

One very informative site is The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. It offers many articles for patients on subjects such as allergic rhinitis, asthma and other allergies, dealing with house dust, and children's allergies.

Colleen Kaemmerer was a contributing editor to Suite101.com's Allergies site.

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