Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy on December 23, 2016

Sources

Mayo Clinic: "Bee Sting."<br /> National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: "Food Allergy."<br /> University of Maryland Medical Center: "Allergic Reactions."

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Video Transcript

Your immune system is designed to defend your body against dangerous invaders like bacteria and viruses. But sometimes it overreacts to harmless things like grass, dander, or pollen. When this happens, your body is having an allergic reaction. Things that cause allergic reactions are called allergens and vary from person to person, like bee stings, medications, shellfish, or peanuts.

Once your immune system recognizes the allergen, it triggers your white blood cells to release antibodies. These cells release chemicals called histamines that produce the symptoms of an allergic reaction, like sneezing, wheezing, itchy eyes, or hives. Allergies are very common and usually pretty minor. But sometimes a reaction can be sudden, severe, and potentially life-threatening. This is known as anaphylaxis.

For minor reactions, try over-the-counter treatment like antihistamines, anti-inflammatory steroid creams, eye drops, or ice packs to ease your symptoms. For more serious cases, your doctor may prescribe allergy injections, epinephrine, or corticosteroids. Allergies may be irritating, but they're nothing to sneeze at!