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Biology 103
2001 Second Web Report
On Serendip

Allergies and Their Treatments

Samantha Manewitz

Allergies are phenomena that seem to be everywhere, especially during the seasons of spring and fall. Evidence of allergies abounds, and many of the symptoms are easily recognizable. Students walk to class followed by a trail of tissues. Other people swell up after eating shellfish or peanuts. Others still tear up and break into bouts of sneezing when a cat decides to curl up in their lap for a minute or two. There has been a lot of research done on the treatment of allergies, and researchers have come up with many different ways in which people can control their allergies. Research continues to be conducted around the globe to discover new, and more effective forms of treatment. So many people are affected by allergies in some form or another that it is important to find out just what allergies are and what the best methods are for controlling their outbreaks.

Allergic reactions are the result of an hypersensitive immune system. There are two types of white blood cells in the human body; T Cells and B Cells. Both types of what blood cells, otherwise known as lymphocytes, are integral parts of the human immune system. They are responsible for protecting the human body from toxins, viruses, and bacteria that could be harmful to the body. Allergic reactions occur when white blood cells mistake other, benign substances such as pollen for a harmful one. Any substance that the T Cells identify as harmful are referred to as antigens. Antigens causing allergic reactions are called allergens. They flow freely in the blood stream and through the lymph nodes and lymph channels, checking on the cells in the body. When they come across an antigen, the B-Cells will produce antibodies known as immunoglobulins or Igs to fight the antigen. There are 5 types of Igs; IgsA, IgsD, IgsE, IgsG, IgsM. Each antibody is associated with a different function of the body. The IgsE is that antibody specifically responsible for allergic reactions. The allergens cause the B Cells to produce IgsE antibodies. Researchers have found that allergy sufferers have 10 times as many IgsE in their blood stream as non-allergy sufferers do. (2) The antibodies attach themselves to mast cells. The mast cell serves as an enzyme in combining the allergen and the antibody. The combination of the allergen and the antibody produce histamines that produce the common symptoms of allergies, namely the coughing, sneezing, and tearing. The mast cell membrane also combines with other enzymes to produce chemicals known as prostaglandins and leukotrenes. These chemical are 5 to 10 thousand times more powerful than the histamines and cause inflammation and airway constriction.

There are many different types of allergies and allergic reactions that are triggered by different allergens. The most commonly mentioned allergy is rhinitis, an allergy caused by forms of weed, grass, mollen, mold spores, dust mites, and animal dander. This usually results in respiratory discomfort. Asthma, a more serious allergy, results in the shortness as a result of constricting bronchial tubes. Asthma is often caused by or aggravated by pollen, mold spores, etc. Skin allergies, such as eczema or atopic dermatitis, result when a person touches poison ivy or certain food s to which their allergic. These are accompanied by rashes, hives, and swelling of various appendages. The most serious of allergic reactions is anaphylactic shock. This is caused by allergies to penicillin, stinging insects, shellfish, or nuts. Body tissues swell up, including the throat tissues, a sufferer will often times vomit, experience severe cramps, and a sharp drop in their blood pressure. This allergy can be fatal if not treated immediately.

So what ways can allergies be treated? Well the most obvious answer is to stay away from the things that cause individual allergic reactions. For example, people with allergies to shellfish remove shellfish from their diet. People with dust mite allergies buy air purifiers for their homes, and furnish their houses with things that are less likely to collect dust. This, becomes a problem for people with environmental allergies. After all, it can be a little inconvenient to move from a high mold or pollinated area to a less pollinated area for the sole purpose of escaping allergies. Besides, new allergies can develop to the new environment.

The most common form of allergy control is a set of medications known as antihistamines. The name is self-explanatory. Block the histamine reducing agents in the allergic reaction and alleviates much of the sneezing and coughing associated with rhinitis. Many of these are sold over the counter, the best example being Benadryl. These cause some minor side effects such as dry mouth, constipation, and temporary confusion. The biggest problem with these medications is the fact that they aren't effective in controlling the stronger chemicals that are responsible for the more serious allergic reactions. The other common over the counter drugs are known as decongestants. These drugs, such as Sudafed constrict the blood cells in the nose as a way of relieving nasal congestion. The problem with these medications is the fact that they can cause rebound side effects, and cease to work if taken for extended periods of time.

Bronchilators are used to open up respiratory passageways that have been constricted due to asthma and asthma related allergies. These can be administered through inhalers, pills, liquid or injections. They can be instrumental in relieving severe respiratory problems that make allergies unbearable. They are also known, however, to cause nausea, headaches, insomnia, restlessness, nervousness, and vomiting, especially in young children. Along these lines are medications known as nasal steroids, not to be confused with anabolic steroids, that reduce the number of mast cells and swelling in the nasal passages. When used in the recommended dosage, side effects should be minimal.

These medications all help to relieve short term symptoms of allergic reactions. However, there is a way of preventing the long term symptoms of allergies. This is through a process known as immunology, more commonly referred to as an allergy shot. Allergy shots operate on the same principals vaccines do. Patients receive a shot of whatever allergens that they are allergic to in small doses, so that the body may build up immunity to the allergen. Unlike vaccines, however, patients have to get shots at regular intervals, each time receiving an increased amount of the allergen. Immunology is the biggest focal point of research in the treatment of allergies. As it stands now, the vast majority of the patients who receive allergy shots end up reaping a long term improvement of their symptoms, however, some people do relapse once their allergy shots have stopped.

The biggest mistake made by allergy sufferers, including myself, is the blind faith put in over the counter medications for allergies. Many times during allergy season, I am allergic to pollens and molds, I find myself taking vast quantities of over the counter antihistamines and decongestants. My research has shown that this isn't necessarily the best method of allergy control. This is not to say that antihistamines and decongestants aren't effective as medication. They do work up to a point. However, as with any medication, when taken in excess, they cease to produce the desired effect in controlling allergic reactions. The most surprising element in my research on allergies and the allergic process was the fact that there are so many different types of medication that can be used to treat allergies. Researchers are even now testing new, more permantent treatments for allergies in their various incarnations. Knowledge is the most powerful tool in combating allergies. Allergy tests can be vital to a person's health, because once allergies are isolated, a person will be more equipped to deal with them

WWW Sources

1) Annals of Allergy and Immunology; The Official publication of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology , A Monthly Journal Published online about Allergies for the medical community

2) American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology "Fast Facts: Allergies", An online resource center for patients with allergies. A good source for basic Facts

3) Treating Allergic Diseases , Another article from an online allergy publication

4) "Therapeutics; Immunotherapy" Johns Hopkins Asthma and Allergy 5) "How Allergies Work" , The starting point for my research. Howstuffworks.com is an online compilation of general information on a ranging variety of topics.




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