Womens Health

Fast Facts About Allergies

An allergy is basically your immune system's reaction to what it considers a foreign substance. Your immune system is doing its job, but its reaction is misguided when it comes to reacting to the foreign substances considered harmless to people without allergies.

Allergy-producing substances are called allergens.

History of the Term

Even though allergic reactions, especially the more severe kind, seem like a modern problem, people have been diagnosed with suffering from allergies for more than a century and a half.

The term "allergy" was first used by Austrian pediatrician Clemens Pirquet (1874-1929). It's derived from two Greek words

· Ergos: meaning work or action

· Allos: meaning different or changed

Pirquet used the term "allergy" to describe beneficial immunity and harmful hypersensitivity. In 1905 it was used for the first time to describe the negative reactions some children had to repeated injections of horse serum. Horse serum was used to fight some infections.

In 1906 the term allergy was reserved for describing negative consequences of the work of the immune system.

Allergies Are Becoming More Common

The American National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases says that in the United States alone, it's estimated that more than 50 million people suffer from adverse reactions to allergens. The cost of allergies and any associated chronic diseases is more than $10 billion every year in the United States.

The most common types of allergies in the US are nasal allergies. Allergic rhinitis affects approximately 35 million Americans. One sixth of the number of those afflicted with nasal allergies is children.

Allergy Facts at a Glance

· Approximately one to six percent of Americans are allergic to latex.

· Food allergies aren't as common as one might believe. Fewer than four percent of adults have them. The numbers are slightly higher among children. The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases reports that between six to eight percent of children under the age of four have true food allergies.

· Anyone who has children or deals with children knows about peanut or nut allergies. Every school and daycare must be nut free giving the impression that a large percentage of children suffer from this potentially fatal allergy. Statistically only about two percent of Americans have this type of allergy. But it is the most severe food-induced allergy.

· Approximately 150 people die every year in the US from an allergic reaction to food.

· Allergic reactions to insect stings account for at least 40 deaths in the United States every year.

· Immunotherapy is the process of inducing, suppressing or enhancing an immune response. It's a highly effective treatment method. For seasonal allergic rhinitis, its approximately 90 percent effective. Immunotherapy is 70 to 80 percent effective for treating those with perennial allergic rhinitis. It's effective 97 percent of the time in treating people with insect sensitivities.

· An anaphylactic reaction to the drug penicillin is responsible for 400 deaths a year in the US.

· Hives are medically referred to as acute urticaria. They affect between ten to 20 percent of the population. About 50 percent of those affected have symptoms for more than six months.

· Unexplained rashes or allergic skin conditions in children under 11 have more than tripled in frequency since the 1960s.

What About Allergy Shots?

Allergy shots can be an effective long-term treatment for those who want relief from their allergy symptoms. Treatment is often required for years to help the body build up immunity. Shots typically start with one to three injections a week for up to seven months. Then the shots are given monthly for three to five years to maintain immunity.

They're a great option for those who can't avoid allergens or those who have life threatening or severe allergies. But they're not without their risks. Sometimes they can cause a severe allergic reaction. The allergic reactions will typically show up within 30 minutes.


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