An allergy is when your immune system thinks a simple thing like pollen is more dangerous than it actually is. It then reacts in a big way, releasing "antibodies" to fight off the invader. This is the basic allergic reaction. When your body is attacked by bacteria or a virus, antibodies are very useful. But when your body uses antibodies to fight off a mild allergen, it's like opening a fire hydrant to put out a burning match.
Things that cause allergic reactions are called allergens. Pollen, mold, animal dander and dust mites are good examples. But some medicines, foods and latex can cause allergic reactions, too.
Allergies usually run in families. If a parent has allergies or asthma, his or her children have about a 25 percent greater risk for them, too. If both parents have allergies, the risk can double.1
Some allergic reactions to things like spider and tick bites, bee stings and some foods can be life-threatening. The immune system puts out so many chemicals that the body goes into shock and shuts down. If you feel weak, faint, have cold chills or other symptoms after a bite, sting or other allergen, get medical help right away.
If our bodies release antibodies to fight off allergens, we are allergic to these things. What we are allergic to depends on the triggers that kick off an allergic reaction.
Allergens in the air can also trigger asthma. This is a condition where the airways narrow, causing coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.2
One of the biggest summer triggers for allergies is pollen.3
What is pollen? Pollen comes from plants. It's what plants use to make more plants. Pollens from weeds and grasses start in the spring and keep going all summer long.
Pollen is carried by the wind, so on a still day pollen levels are usually lower. A windy day will have higher levels as the pollens blow around. Chilly, rainy days are often good, low-pollen days.
Some common pollen sources:
The medical name for it is allergic rhinitis, but most people know it as hay fever. Hay fever is caused by pollen, and its symptoms include:
The Cleveland Clinic says at least 1 in 6 Americans4 suffers from hay fever. That's about 50 million hay fever cases in this country alone!
And then there are the reactions to poison ivy, oak, sumac and bug bites. Symptoms can include:
Really strong reactions like nausea, fever, shortness of breath, extreme soreness at the rash site or swollen lymph nodes need emergency care right away.
Mold grows on soil, decaying leaves and rotting wood. Most outdoor molds aren't active during the winter, but when spring comes around, they start growing. That's why we're most likely to have allergic reactions to mold in the summer.
This short video from the American Academy of Allergies, Asthma and Immunology explains why pollen gives us so much trouble:
A pollen count measures the number of grains of pollen in the air over a certain period of time. Check the daily pollen count in your area. The National Allergy Bureau and American Academy of Allergy Asthma Immunology gives daily pollen information.
Knowing and avoiding things you're allergic to is the best way to get through the summer. Here are a few tips from WebMD: http://www.webmd.com/allergies/allergy-relief-10/seasonal-allergy-checklist
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