Many people experience occasional discomfort from itching and scratching. But, for those with allergies, itching can be chronic, severe, and frustrating to deal with regularly. The article delves into the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments for allergies, aiming to help those who suffer from persistent itching find relief.
What Triggers Allergic Reactions and Itching?
Allergies happen when the immune system overreacts to substances that are harmless to most people. These foreign substances are called allergens. Common allergy triggers include
Dust Mites: Microscopic bugs living in bedding, carpets, and fabrics. Droppings and remains when crushed can cause year-round allergy symptoms. Across the U.S., between 10 and 20% of people show sensitivities.
Pets: Saliva, urine, dander, and fur from cats, dogs, rodents, birds, and horses. Between 15 and 30% of people have pet allergies triggered by exposure.
Pollen: Fine powder released by flowering plants, weeds, and trees. In seasonal allergic rhinitis (hay fever), antibodies bind to pollen and release histamine. Outdoor mold growing on decaying leaves can also contribute. Up to 30% of adults and 40% of children have pollen-related allergies.
Indoor Allergens: Mold and pet dander at home or workplaces, as well as dust mites in fabrics, carpeting, and bedding. Year-round indoor allergens cause symptoms.
When exposed to an allergen, the body releases chemicals like histamine that defend against pathogens. This causes allergy symptoms like itching, sneezing, and coughing.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), allergies affect over 50 million Americans each year, making them the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S.
What Do Allergy Symptoms Look and Feel Like?
Allergy symptoms can vary depending on the type of allergy. Here are some of the most common signs:
- Itchy, Watery Eyes: Allergens like pollen or dander may irritate the eyes.
- Runny Nose: Excess mucus production causes a runny nose.
- Sneezing: The body tries to expel allergens from the nasal passages.
- Itching: focused around the eyes, nose, roof of mouth, and skin.
- Hives or Rash: Red, swollen patches on the skin that are itchy and painful.
- Eczema Flare-Ups: Patches of irritated, inflamed skin.
How Are Allergies Diagnosed by Doctors?
Allergists use a combination of medical history reviews, physical exams, and allergy testing to pinpoint specific allergy triggers causing symptoms like itching, rashes, digestive distress, sinus issues, and asthma flare-ups.
To diagnose specific triggers, allergists rely on tests like skin prick testing, patch testing, blood tests, elimination diets, and nasal or bronchial challenge tests. Once testing indicates the substances triggering patients’ bothersome symptoms, targeted allergen avoidance and treatment plans can be constructed for lasting relief.
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To identify the allergens causing symptoms, allergy specialists may use:
- Skin Prick Testing
- Blood Tests
- Food Elimination Diet
- Patch Testing
Proper allergy testing can identify exactly which triggers need to be avoided or treated to prevent bothersome itching and other symptoms.
What Medications and Treatments Help Relieve Allergy Symptoms?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2021 one-third of U.S. adults had a diagnosed seasonal allergy, eczema, or food allergy.
Medications Several over-the-counter and prescription medication options can provide allergy symptom relief:
- Antihistamines like Zyrtec, Claritin, and Benadryl block histamine production to reduce swelling, itching, and mucus.
- Decongestants like Sudafed constrict blood vessels in the nose to decrease swelling.
- Nasal Steroid Sprays like Flonase and Rhinocort reduce inflammation in the nasal airways.
- Leukotriene Inhibitors like Singulair block chemicals that trigger allergy symptoms.
Allergy shots or immunotherapy involve receiving injections of an allergen, starting with tiny amounts and increasing over time. This desensitizes the body’s immune system to specific triggers. According to the AAFA, allergy shots reduce allergy symptoms for roughly 85% of people with allergies.
While over 170 foods have been reported to cause reactions, most come from 8 key food groups:
- Tree nuts like walnuts, almonds and cashews
- Shellfish like shrimp, crab, and lobster
- Fish like tuna, salmon, and cod
Proteins in these foods trigger an abnormal immune response involving histamine release, digestive issues, hives, swelling, and even anaphylaxis. According to the CDC, 32 million Americans have possible food allergies, with shellfish, peanuts, milk, and tree nuts being the most common.
Patient History Reviews
Doctors begin by exploring:
- Chronic symptoms and complaint history
- Family history of allergies
- Triggers and environments provoking reactions
- Efficacy of over-the-counter allergy meds
These details help identify patterns pointing to likely allergen culprits.
In-office exams allow allergists to uncover relevant signs, including
- Visible skin conditions like eczema or hives
- Swollen nasal passages, throat irritation or asthma wheezing
- Watery, reddened, or puffy eyes
- Ear infections and sinus tenderness
To diagnose specific triggers, allergists rely on tests like:
- Skin Prick Testing: Allergen solutions are dotted on the arm or back and pricked. Histamine reactions or show sensitivities.
- Patch Testing: Suspected skin allergen patches were applied to the back for 48 hours. Reactions confirm contact allergies.
- Blood Tests: Blood samples measuring allergen-specific IgE antibodies signal the body’s hypersensitive immune response.
- Elimination Diets: Suspected food allergens are removed and then reintroduced while tracking reactions.
- Nasal or Bronchial Challenge Tests: Incremental allergen doses are given or via inhaler to watch for reactions.
Once testing indicates the substances triggering patients’ bothersome symptoms, targeted allergen avoidance and treatment plans can be constructed for lasting relief.
Avoiding known allergy triggers is key to preventing bothersome symptoms like itching. For environmental allergies, air filters, mattress covers, washing bedding in hot water, and limiting time outdoors when pollen counts are high can help. For food allergies, reading ingredient labels and notifying restaurants of dietary restrictions is crucial.
What are the most common allergy triggers?
The most common allergy triggers are pollen, dust mites, molds, pet dander, insect stings, latex, and certain foods like peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, milk, eggs, wheat, and soy.
Can allergies be cured?
Currently, there is no cure for allergies. But, with medications, immunotherapy, and trigger avoidance, allergy symptoms can be managed. Some children even outgrow certain food and environmental allergies.
How can I prevent allergy flare-ups and itching?
Preventing allergy symptoms centers on avoiding known triggers. Using air purifiers, washing bedding, monitoring pollen counts, taking medication before exposure to allergens, and following elimination diets can also help reduce flare-ups. Identifying and treating triggers is key for long-term allergy relief.
The Takeaway: Seek Treatment, Avoid Triggers, and Find Relief
Living with ongoing allergies can make even basic daily tasks frustrating. From diagnosing specific triggers to accessing the latest treatments, comprehensive allergy care is essential. By being proactive in avoiding exposure to allergens and using preventative medications, allergy sufferers can finally experience long-term relief from the relentless cycle of itching, swelling, sneezing, and irritation.