Understanding Allergy

What Is an Allergy? Half the people in the world have allergies. Million of Americans suffer the runny nose, watery eyes and sneezing fits of hay fever. Or the itchy blotches of hives. Or the rash of eczema. Or the wheezing and shortness of breath of asthma. Life with an allergy becomes an obstacle course of triggers to avoid.

Pollen count are followed like the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The cat is farmed out. The house is purged of all dust, with the bedroom stripped of draperies, spreads and carpets. Favorite foods are shunned. Arms are turned into pin cushions by dozens of skin tests. ”Shots” are wincingly endured. And yet for many, the misery remains.

But now there’s hope, thanks to the pioneering work of small but growing number of doctors who treat allergy in a new and different way. Their approach-sometimes known as clinical ecology-is an offshoot of traditional allergy treatment, yet at the same time challenges some widely accepted concepts about allergy is.

Breaking the Allergy Stereotype

In plain English, an allergy is an out of the ordinary sensitivity to substances that don’t bother most people. Most people, for instance, can tolerate normal amounts of dust around the house. For others, however, a day’s accumulation guarantees a stuffy nose and a though time breaking.

Likewise, most people can eat tomatoes with no problem. A small number, however, immediately break out in a rash. Yet the allergy stereotype of the wheezy kid who can’t have a dog or the young woman whose skin breaks out whenever she goes near a tomato is only part of the story.

Dust, pollen molds, fur and foods such as tomatoes, strawberries or seafood are only a few of the everyday items to which people can be allergic. Dyes, soaps, detergents, cleaning supplies, pesticides, cosmetics, plastics, drugs and pollutants are also potentials troublemakers. (many substances that are toxic in moderate or large does, such as pesticides or food additives, tend to cause allergy in much smaller, so called safe does).

In short, anyone can be allergic to anything under the sun. (and sometimes even sunlight itself!) so even if fur, dust, tomatoes or some other common allergy trigger is identified as the major cause of your troubles, you and your doctor may be overlooking other, less common but important contributing causes.

And unless all potential allergy triggers are considered, your symptoms may stubbornly persist. Moreover, there’s much more allergic reactions than wheezing, sneezing and itching. Unsuspected allergies can masquerade as any one of dozens of problems – anxiety, headaches, fatigue, depression, backaches, arthritis, colitis, gallbladder problems, hyperactivity, ulcers, even high blood pressure and compulsive eating or drinking. (and that list is far from complete).

In other words, while the skin, nose and lungs are the most common targets for allergy, any part of the body – muscles, brain, joints and so on – can and does react. The following problems are just a few of the ways in which allergy can disguise itself as other illness, but they give you a pretty good idea of the scope of allergy related conditions.

  • Alcoholism may actually result from sensitivity to the grains and fruit from which liquor, beer and wine are made.
  • Arthritis in some people may simply be an allergic reaction in the joints to common foods such as beef or wheat.
  • Bedwetting may caused be spasms of a bladder irritated by allergy to milk or circuits fruit.
  • Criminal behavior may result when people become depressed or hostile after eating sugary foods to which they are allergically addicted.
  • Headaches – especially migraines – in many cases seem to be a direct result of sensitivity to certain foods of household chemicals.
  • Heart problems such as chest paint or irregular heartbeats (and even some forms of heart disease) may be triggered by chemicals and air pollution.
  • Hyperactivity, learning disabilities and autism in many children may be caused by a problem in the diet or environment, not a problem child.
  • Menopause troubles, such as hot flashes, can be exaggerated by allergy to food or chemicals.
  • Vaginitis may actually be an allergy to such diverse items as nylon stockings, milk or pollen.

Writing as coauthor of the landmark text, Food Allergy (Charles C Thomas, 1972), Albert Rowe, M.D., summed up the situation: ”Allergy cannot be ruled out because there is no history of hay fever, asthma or eczema.” Furthermore, age is no defense. Young and old alike can and do have allergies.

The belief that an allergic child will ”grow out of it” is largely a myth. That may hold true in some cases, but in the majority, the child hasn’t so much grown out of it as the allergy has instead gone underground, so to speak, only to manifest itself in less obvious ways.

Allergic children tend to grow into allergic adults unless the allergy is properly diagnose and dealt with. And many adults are surprised to discover that they’re suddenly allergic to something they’ve previously tolerated all through life. Some experts estimate that 60 percent of the people in doctors’ offices have symptoms that are either caused or complicated by allergies.

Sometime the problems have been a part of life for so long that they’re easily overlooked or ignored. Other symptoms are written off with the throwaway diagnosis of ”stress” or ”emotional tension.” Or even attributed to imagination and hypochondria.

Many allergic reactions, in fact, are exactly the kinds of problems that send so many people from one doctor to another, only to hear ”There’s nothing wrong with you” or ”Learn to live with it.” Unless you’re wheezing to beat the band or your skin looks like it’s been attacked by Brazilian fire ants, your doctor is not apt to suspect allergy.

So if you’re tired of feeling miserable for no discernible reason, it might be time to consider factors in your diet, home or workplace – especially if you’ve been diagnosed as allergic but go through periods when nothing seems to help. Formaldehyde fumes seeping from the woodwork or carpets in your newly renovated office may be at the root of your annoying and persistent headaches and itchy eyes.

Gas fumes from the pilot light on your stove or home heating system may be causing your out of character moodiness and irritability at home – safe, it seems, for everyone else may be causing that sour stomach or abdominal bloating.

After you begin to look at allergies outside of the allergy stereotypes, you can learn to walk away from needles suffering. Once the culprit or culprits are properly identified – and then eliminated – you’ll be well on your way to relief. But what is allergy, anyway?