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How Are Allergies Linked to Your Immune System

April 30, 2019
Published in: General

Close-up of a patch of dandelions

Everyone is always so excited for the arrival of Spring, that is, until the pollen comes along with it. That’s because nearly 50 million people suffer from allergies in the United States, it’s the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the country, and costs $18 million annually. That’s an incredible amount of money to spend for what is essentially an overreaction on the part of the body’s immune system. Let’s explore how your hay fever and the immune system are intertwined, and whether or not you can do anything about it.

What is the Body’s Immune System?

The immune system is responsible for protecting your body from invading viruses, pathogens, fungi, or any other microorganism that may cause your body harm. This system is made up of a complex system of cells and organs that fight off infection. It includes plenty of parts playing different roles, from white blood cells called lymphocytes that confront microorganisms in the bloodstream to entire organs like the spleen or the appendix. Through the immune system, your body is able to protect itself from outside agents.

So Does That Mean Pollen is Dangerous to My Body?

Woman sneezing into a tissueNo, not really. But because your immune system sees pollen as a foreign threat, it creates an immune response to deal with the invader. For most people that suffer from allergies, that immune response manifests as a runny nose and itchy eyes. The severity of the reaction can vary greatly from person to person or on the amount of allergen that made its way into a person’s body.

Some more severe allergies are capable of inducing anaphylactic shock. In these cases, the immune response could be life-threatening. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include shortness of breath, tightness in the throat, hives or swelling, nausea or vomiting, and fainting or dizziness. Anaphylaxis can also cause a heart to stop beating entirely.

What Can Be Done to Suppress the Immune Response to an Allergen?

Solutions for a range of allergic symptoms exist. If you have an allergy that is severe enough to risk anaphylactic shock, a doctor may prescribe you an epinephrine auto-injector loaded with medicine to stave off an attack.

If you have more mild symptoms, you may be able to find relief through antihistamines, decongestants, or through the use of nasal sprays. In the event you have allergic-type asthma, talk to your healthcare professional about being prescribed an inhaler to mitigate your symptoms and ease attacks.

Preparing a syringe for an allergy shotIf these medications do not provide enough relief—there are other alternatives. In some cases, allergy shots can reduce a body’s immune response. By regularly receiving injections that introduce trace amounts of an allergen into their body, some patients can have their bodies “get used” to an offending agent, meaning that the response is less severe than it would be without a shot.

Other ways of easing your allergies are simply to avoid the cause altogether. For those with dust allergies, ensuring your home is regularly cleaned and dusted may mean that you suffer fewer attacks. For those with pollen allergies, keeping the windows closed and limiting the time spent outdoors during peak season could decrease the amount of time you spend rubbing your eyes red.

No matter what allergies you may have, it is important to know that you may have options for how to decrease the body’s immune response. Work with your health care professionals to choose a course of treatment that is right for you. Either through changing your habits, receiving over-the-counter or prescription medications, or regular allergy shots—there is a chance that the suffering that comes along with the change in seasons can be reduced.