Allergies are an abnormal response of the immune system. People who have allergies have an immune system that reacts to a usually harmless substance in the environment. This substance (pollen, mold, and animal dander, for example) is called an allergen.
Allergies are a very common problem, affecting at least two out of every 10 Americans.
Nearly a third of people living in the U.S. believe they have a food allergy, according to a recent study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association . But only 5% of children and 4% of teens and adults have true food allergies.
Why do many people think they have a food allergy when they don't?
Experts say it’s because people don’t understand what really constitutes a food allergy and they often misuse the term.
“Unfortunately, the term ‘allergy’ is sometimes used by the public...
First, a person is exposed to an allergen by inhaling it, swallowing it, or getting it on their skin. After a person is exposed to the allergen, a series of events create the allergic reaction:
The body starts to produce a specific type of antibody, called IgE, to bind the allergen.
The antibodies attach to a form of blood cell called a mast cell. Mast cells can be found in the airways, in the intestines, and elsewhere. The presence of mast cells in the airways and GI tract makes these areas more susceptible to allergen exposure.
The allergens bind to the IgE, which is attached to the mast cell. This causes the mast cells to release a variety of chemicals into the blood. Histamine, the main chemical, causes most of the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
What Are the Symptoms of an Allergic Reaction?
Common symptoms of an allergic reaction to inhaled or skin allergens include: