Allergies arise when the immune system reacts excessively to typically harmless substances, known as allergens, such as food, dust, pet dander, and seasonal pollen. Depending on factors like age, overall health, and the severity of allergy symptoms, your primary care provider may recommend consultation with an immunologist, a specialist in allergy treatment.

Your body’s allergic response

Allergens can enter the body through inhalation, ingestion, or skin contact. In response to common allergens, the immune system initiates an exaggerated reaction, generating immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. These antibodies travel to specific cells that release inflammatory substances such as histamine, triggering allergic reactions.

Symptoms may vary from mild itching or nasal congestion to anaphylaxis, a severe, potentially life-threatening response necessitating prompt medical intervention.


Treatment of allergies

Your primary care provider will collaborate with you to devise a personalized treatment regimen tailored to address your allergy symptoms. This could involve a recommendation for consultation with an allergist or immunologist, who specializes in managing allergies.

Typical allergy types and symptoms

In the United States, prevalent allergens include:

  • Animal dander, urine, or skin oils

  • Bee stings

  • Industrial chemicals

  • Cockroaches and their excretions

  • Feathers

  • Various foods

  • Household dust, dust mites, and their excrement

  • Latex

  • Medications

  • Mold

  • Pollen

Allergic reactions can happen anywhere in the body. They most commonly occur in the skin, eyes, stomach lining, nose, sinuses, throat and lungs, where immune system cells are found to fight off germs that are breathed in, swallowed or that come in contact with the skin.


Allergic reactions may manifest as:

  • Asthma symptoms, including coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath

  • Hives or itchy welts

  • Itchy rash

  • Red, itchy, dry skin

  • Red, itchy, watery eyes

  • Nasal congestion, sneezing, nasal itching or runniness, and itching in the ears or roof of the mouth.

If you experience any of these symptoms, particularly if you suspect they are triggered by a known allergen, you should see your CU Medicine primary care provider.


Understanding anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis refers to a critical allergic response with life-threatening implications, demanding prompt emergency care.

Symptoms typically manifest within moments or minutes of encountering an allergen, such as peanuts or bee stings. However, in some instances, symptoms may arise 30 minutes or more post-exposure. Anaphylaxis triggers an immune system response, prompting the release of chemicals that may induce shock. This sudden release can lead to a rapid drop in blood pressure and constriction of the airways, resulting in breathing difficulties.

Other signs and symptoms include:

  • Lightheadedness or loss of consciousness.

  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

  • Skin reactions, such as hives, itchiness, as well as flushed or pallid skin.

  • Weak and rapid pulse.

Immediate administration of an epinephrine injection and prompt seeking of medical attention at an emergency facility are imperative in managing anaphylaxis. If you or someone nearby is exhibiting signs of anaphylaxis, contact emergency services by dialing 911 or proceed to the nearest emergency room without delay.

Risk factors and preventing allergies

Allergies can impact individuals of any age, although they are more prevalent among children. Initial allergic reactions can occur at any stage of life or reemerge after a prolonged period of remission. Certain factors may elevate one's susceptibility to developing allergies, including:

  • Asthma.

  • Exposure to environmental irritants.

  • Family history of allergies.

  • Stress.

Taking proactive measures to manage these risk factors can aid in allergy prevention.


Preventative measures

In addition to managing risks, consider implementing these preventive measures:

Avoid known triggers: For instance, if you experience pollen allergies, commonly known as hay fever, remain indoors and keep all windows and doors shut when pollen levels are high. Consider wearing a face mask while engaging in yard work. If dust mites trigger your allergies, launder your bedding, curtains, and clothing frequently in hot water. Utilize dust mite covers for your mattress and pillows.

Monitor your symptoms: Keep a record of your symptoms, their timing, dietary intake, and any alleviating factors. Share this information with your healthcare provider.

Wear a medical alert accessory: If you've previously experienced a severe allergic reaction like anaphylaxis, wearing a medical alert bracelet or necklace can alert others to your critical allergy in the event of an incapacitating reaction where communication is not possible.

Your healthcare provider can offer guidance on avoiding allergens that trigger reactions.


Managing allergies

Your healthcare provider will collaborate with you to develop a tailored treatment strategy aimed at alleviating your symptoms, potentially involving a referral to an allergist or immunologist with expertise in managing allergies. The specific treatment plan will be contingent upon factors such as your symptoms, age, overall health, and the extent of the condition.

In addition to allergen avoidance, your treatment regimen may encompass:

  • Medication: Nasal sprays are effective in alleviating nasal congestion, stuffiness, and postnasal drip. Antihistamines are beneficial for addressing itchiness and hives, while decongestants help manage nasal congestion and associated symptoms akin to colds and allergies. For individuals with asthma or breathing difficulties triggered by allergies, treatment will be tailored based on symptom severity. In cases of severe allergies, carrying an emergency epinephrine shot at all times is essential to mitigate symptoms until emergency care can be accessed.

  • Allergy shots (immunotherapy): This approach is employed for individuals with hay fever (allergic rhinitis), conjunctivitis, asthma, and those with a stinging insect allergy (bee venom allergy). Allergy shots involve injecting a combination of various allergens to which you are sensitive into your arm on a weekly basis until reaching a maximum dose. Subsequently, the frequency of injections is gradually reduced over time. Many patients experience symptom improvement with allergy shots, typically within 12 to 18 months, with some noticing benefits in as little as 6 to 8 months.

  • Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT): This emerging form of immunotherapy involves daily oral administration at home. While it serves as a viable alternative to allergy shots, SLIT is currently only available for a select few allergens.

Living with allergies

Fortunately, most of our patients enjoy a high quality of life by implementing strategies such as allergen avoidance, undergoing immunotherapy, and using medication as necessary. Your primary care provider is equipped and available to assist you in managing your allergies effectively.