Do you experience itching in your eyes, nose or throat? Wheezing, cramps in your stomach, diarrhea or bloating? If so, you could have allergies. Allergies are caused by an over-reaction of the immune system to a particular substance or allergen.
Allergies can be manifested as food allergies, respiratory allergies and drug allergies. Conditions such as urticaria (hives), eczema and contact dermatitis are also immune mediated diseases. The immune system is made up of special cells that circulate throughout the body to defend it against foreign substances, such as viruses and bacteria. For people with allergies, the immune system is overzealous and reacts when they inhale, swallow or touch normally harmless substances, such as pollen or dust. This results in the release of chemicals such as histamine, which causes swelling, inflammation, and itching of tissues which is characteristic of allergies.
Making a diagnosis of allergies includes performing a complete evaluation that includes medical history, symptoms, and physical examination. Diagnostic testing may include skin prick testing and patch testing. A blood test may also be done to help identify the substances that are causing certain allergies. A food or drug challenge test may be done to diagnose food or drug allergy.
Allergies are not only treated by medication (that offer symptomatic relief) but by immunotherapy (subcutaneous injections given monthly or drops placed under the tongue several times a week) which teaches the immune system to become tolerant to the offending allergens. This way a reduction of symptoms is achieved, less medication is required and diseases such as asthma are prevented.
Food intolerance is more common than food allergies and it is estimated that about 45% of the population suffer from some form of food intolerance. The causes of food intolerance are not fully understood. Under normal circumstances antibodies combined with proteins in the food form immune complexes which are then eliminated. Patients with food intolerance have an accumulation of immune complexes in joints and the digestive tract. Symptoms of intolerance are rashes, swellings of the skin, asthma, stuffy or runny nose, frequent colds and infections. If the gastrointestinal system is affected, symptoms such as colic, bloating, diarrhea, vomiting, frequent mouth ulcers and reflux are present (irritable bowel syndrome). Patients may have migraine, headaches, anxiety, depression, lethargy, impairment of memory and concentration. Symptoms may appear up to three days after eating the offending food .A simple blood test can identify foods that may be the culprit of the various symptoms. Treatment is accomplished by elimination of foods that show an elevated level of antibodies for a certain period which can decrease the symptoms and the food can then be reintroduced.
For further information please visit www.dubailondonclinic.com
Dr. Mina Milovanovic,
MD Internal Medicine Specialicist
Dubai London Clinic Allergy Centre