WHAT ARE ALLERGIES?
Allergies are a major cause of illness in the United States. As many as 50 million people—about one in five—have allergies. This includes millions of children. If you have an allergy, your immune system treats whatever you are allergic to as an invader and releases chemicals to defend against it. It is these chemicals released by the body that cause allergic symptoms that can range from mild to severe. Sometimes they are just annoying. Sometimes they are deadly.
Allergic reactions can affect your nose, throat, eyes, lungs, skin, stomach or intestines. Rarely, they can affect the whole body. Whenever you are exposed to something you are allergic to, your body will trigger an allergic response. That is why it's important to know what you are allergic to and take steps to treat or avoid a reaction.
The most common allergens float in the air, such as plant pollens from trees, grasses and weeds, dander from pets, and mold spores and dust mites. This type of allergy is called "rhinitis" because it affects the nose. The symptoms are sneezing, stuffy or runny nose and itchy, watery eyes.
NASAL ALLERGIES (Rhinitis) can take three forms:
- Seasonal - Seasonal allergic rhinitis—especially when caused by plant pollens or molds—is often called "hay fever." But seasonal rhinitis is not caused by hay, and when you have it, you don't have a fever. It occurs mostly in the spring, summer or early fall when plants are pollinating.
- Year-round - Over two-thirds of people with rhinitis suffer "perennial allergic rhinitis" year-round. This is often caused by an allergy to dust mites, pet dander, mold or other indoor allergens. Foods also sometimes cause perennial rhinitis.
- Non-allergic rhinitis - People with non-allergic rhinitis tend to have symptoms that come and go throughout the year. Usually, symptoms are a stuffy and runny nose and postnasal drip. This type of rhinitis can be caused by:
- Exposure to smoke, smog and air pollution
- Overuse of nasal drops or sprays
- Some medicines
- Hormonal changes in women during menstruation and pregnancy
WHAT IS ASTHMA?
Asthma is a disease that affects the airways in the lungs. If you have asthma, the lining in your airways are inflamed and swollen all the time. This makes your airways more likely to be bothered by allergens or other things such as smoke, stress, exercise or cold air. These "triggers" don't bother most people, but they can cause symptoms if you have asthma. They also can cause an "asthma attack," making your airways swell even more and blocking airflow into your lungs.
WHO HAS ASTHMA AND WHY?
Asthma is very common, affecting more than 22 million people in the United States, including almost 7 million children. No one knows for sure why some people have asthma and others don't. People who have family members with allergies or asthma are more likely to have asthma.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Many people do not know they have asthma, especially if their symptoms aren't severe. But any asthma symptom is serious and can become deadly. The most common asthma symptoms are:
- Coughing, especially at night, with exercise, or when laughing
- Trouble breathing
- A tight feeling in the chest
- Wheezing – a squeaky or whistling sound
Sometimes a cough that won't go away is the only symptom. Asthma symptoms often happen at night and in the morning, but they can happen any time. They get worse when you are around your asthma triggers.
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