What Causes Allergies?

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Allergies occur when the immune system reacts to a harmless substance as if it were harmful. This substance, called an allergen, can be anything from pollen and dust mites to certain foods or medications. When a person with allergies comes into contact with the allergen, their immune system releases chemicals like histamine, causing symptoms such as sneezing, itching, and congestion. Allergies can be inherited or developed over time, and certain factors like genetics and environmental exposure can increase the risk. Avoiding allergens, taking medications, and receiving immunotherapy are common strategies for managing allergies.


Some people experience allergies when they come into contact with certain things. These can include flowers, pets, or even certain foods like peanuts. Allergies can affect different people in different ways.

Most people are familiar with allergies in some way. You may be allergic to something yourself, or you may know someone who suffers from allergies.

For example, maybe one of your parents is allergic to cats, or you have a neighbor who is allergic to pollen. Perhaps you have a classmate who is allergic to peanuts or another type of food.

Allergies can cause a variety of symptoms, such as itchy eyes, a runny nose, sneezing, coughing, and even hives.

When you have an allergic reaction, your body’s immune system mistakenly identifies something harmless, like cat hair or a peanut, as a threat. These triggers of allergic reactions are called allergens.

Your immune system produces antibodies to protect you from the allergen, but these antibodies release chemicals called histamines into your bloodstream. It is the histamines that cause the allergic symptoms you experience.

Many people with allergies learn to manage and treat their symptoms. However, some allergic reactions can be severe and even life-threatening. For example, some allergies can trigger asthma attacks or a severe reaction called anaphylaxis, which can be deadly if not treated quickly.

People can be allergic to a wide range of things, including foods like dairy, eggs, peanuts, seafood, soy, and wheat. Allergies to insect bites and stings are also common, as well as reactions to dust, mold, pet dander, pollen, chemicals, and medications.

So, how do people develop allergies? Scientists have found that allergies often run in families, but specific allergies are not inherited. Instead, children of parents with allergies are more likely to develop allergies themselves.

If one parent has allergies, there is a 50% chance that their child will have allergies. If both parents have allergies, the chance increases to 75%.

Some people are born with allergies, but they may outgrow them as they get older. However, it is also possible to develop new allergies over time. Allergies affect many people, and it is estimated that over 50 million Americans suffer from allergies.

Give it a Try

We hope you enjoyed learning about allergies today! If you want to learn more, try one or more of the following activities with a friend or family member:

  • Do you have any allergies? Many people have allergies, and some have multiple allergies. Have a conversation with your friends and family members about your allergies. Discuss the measures you take to avoid allergic reactions. Are there any allergies that your friends and family members have?
  • Do you know what to do if a friend experiences a severe allergic reaction? Visit an online resource called First Aid for Allergic Reactions to learn how to properly respond to an allergic reaction. You never know when your knowledge and quick actions might save a friend’s life!
  • Are you up for a challenge? Talk to the staff at your school or a local restaurant about their procedures for serving customers with allergies. Do they offer alternative food options for common allergens? Do they have special training to handle emergencies caused by severe allergic reactions? Write a brief summary of what you learn and share it with your friends and family.

FAQ

1. What are allergies and how do they develop?

Allergies are a common immune response to substances that are typically harmless to most people. When a person with allergies comes into contact with an allergen, such as pollen, pet dander, or certain foods, their immune system overreacts. The immune system produces antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE) in response to the allergen. These antibodies then trigger the release of chemicals, such as histamine, which cause allergy symptoms.

2. Can allergies be inherited?

Yes, allergies can be inherited. If one or both parents have allergies, their children are more likely to develop allergies as well. However, the specific allergen that causes the allergy may vary among family members. For example, if a parent is allergic to peanuts, their child may be allergic to a different food or environmental allergen. Having a family history of allergies increases the risk of developing allergies, but it does not guarantee that a person will have allergies.

3. Can you develop allergies later in life?

Yes, it is possible to develop allergies later in life. While some people may have allergies from childhood, others may develop allergies as adults. This phenomenon is known as adult-onset allergies. It is not fully understood why some individuals suddenly develop allergies later in life, but it may be due to a combination of genetic predisposition and exposure to allergens. It is important to note that allergies can develop at any age, and it is not uncommon for adults to experience new allergic reactions.

4. Are there ways to prevent or manage allergies?

Although allergies cannot be completely prevented, there are strategies to manage and reduce allergy symptoms. Avoiding known allergens is crucial, whether it is by staying indoors during high pollen seasons or avoiding specific foods. Over-the-counter antihistamines can help relieve mild allergy symptoms, while prescription medications may be necessary for more severe allergies. Allergy shots, or immunotherapy, can also be an effective long-term treatment for allergies. It is best to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice and treatment options.

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