Allergies are an overreaction of your immune system to substances called allergens that usually cause no reaction in most individuals. Allergens can trigger sneezing, wheezing, coughing and itching and are often confused with a cold.
In addition to being frustrating and bothersome, allergies have been linked to serious chronic respiratory illnesses, such as sinusitis and asthma. Though a runny nose isn't serious, if allergies provoke an asthmatic response, the result can be fatal. It is important to not ignore long-term cold-like symptoms.
According to assistant professor of medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine Dr Beth Corn, allergies are more chronic than a cold. "If you have a cold, your symptoms probably last for two to three days and then stop. With allergies, the symptoms tend to be more lingering. If you tend to have symptoms such as runny a nose, itchy and watery eyes, often, especially during the height of spring and fall then you probably have nasal allergies."
Since allergies are not curable like a cold, they can severely impact your quality of life. If you happen to have a job that keeps you in the "allergy danger zone," like LPGA golfer Jill McGill, allergies can literally cost you your career.
"I have played events where I thought I was going to have to withdraw because my nasal drainage and sneezing wouldn't let up. I had a hard time seeing the ball, and forget about being able to concentrate! The other symptom that affects my game is feeling lethargic. My nasal allergy symptoms wear me out!" says McGill, who is working with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America to promote awareness through ChallengeYourCourse.com.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, allergies are grouped by the kind of trigger, time of year or where symptoms appear on the body. For instance, you can have indoor and outdoor allergies (also called hay fever, seasonal, perennial or nasal allergies), food and drug allergies, latex allergies, insect allergies, skin allergies and eye allergies.
And despite allergies being categorized, your specific allergies are unique to you. Allergies can affect you while not affecting others, just as you can be allergic only to particular allergens and immune to others.
"Whether or not someone has allergies is part of their genetics. If one parent has asthma, eczema, or allergies, the offspring is 30 percent more likely to have allergies. If two parents have any of these conditions, the offspring is 60 percent as likely to have them, too. Of course someone could have nasal allergies even if neither parent does, as it is simply part of one's genetic make up," says Dr Corn.
According to Dr Corn, the most common perennial allergies are cockroaches, dust mites and cat dander, which is more allergenic than dog dander. The most common seasonal allergies are grass and trees – the most common fall allergies are ragweed and weeds.
McGill says, "I first realized I suffered from nasal allergies around the age of eight when I had severe symptoms while visiting a friend's horse stable. My eyes glued shut and I couldn't stop sneezing."
One must ask why McGill wasn't suffering from allergies even before that, if allergies are part of the body's genetic make-up. One explanation could be that McGill wasn't exposed to those particular allergens until she was eight. But what about the people that suddenly develop allergies to allergens to which they've been repeatedly exposed?
Dr Corn explains, "No one knows exactly why this is, bodies simply change. Similarly people's bodies sometimes change in such a way that they are no longer allergic to something they previously were. The body changes in many ways with age and [developing allergies as well as no longer being allergic to something] is sometimes one of the ways."
Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to prevent developing allergies or rid yourself of them (outside of genetic tendency), but you can take measures to lesson your nasal allergy symptoms. Here are McGill's and Dr Corn's expert tips on managing your allergies.
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