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Understanding “Allergy”

The term “allergy” can mean different things to different people. Experiencing adverse symptoms such as nasal congestion, drainage, or sneezing, often leads individuals to a conclusion that they have allergies.

Symptoms such as those mentioned, are often due to allergies; those same symptoms, however, might be triggered by non-allergen causes. This is the case with the vasomotor rhinitis, which is triggered by exposure to strong odors or fumes, but it is not an allergic reaction.

True allergy is an immune response that our body develops over time, caused by the immune system’s production of IgE. Ragweed allergy, commonly described as hay fever, is one example of a “true” allergy.

IgE causes a very specific type of inflammation. This allergic inflammation is the result of a

specific IgE, such as ragweed pollen, that triggers the allergic immune response. This allergic inflammatory response triggers multiple chemicals called “mediators” to be released into our bodies. “Histamine” is one of the most common mediators, and release of histamine results in sneezing, itching, and a runny nose, symptoms that are referred to as allergic rhinitis. Specific medications that block histamines are called “antihistamines”. Leukotrienes are another allergic mediator, and release of leukotrienes results in nasal congestion and thick drainage; the medication named “montelukast”, blocks the action of leukotrienes.

Topical steroids, such as a nasal spray for allergic rhinitis, work directly to eliminate nasal

congestion by reducing the allergic inflammation. Used as prescribed, topical nasal steroids

have been found to be safe and very effective. Oral or injectable steroids differ from topical

steroids; oral and injectable steroids should be used cautiously and infrequently for the

treatment of difficult-to-control allergic nasal symptoms, due to potential serious and long-term side effects.Understanding

what allergies are and are not, will help you decide what medications may be best for controlling your allergy symptoms.

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