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An allergy, or hypersensitivity reaction, occurs when the body’s immune system over-reacts to a substance (known as an allergen) that is normally harmless, such as mould, pollen, animal dander or dust mites. The white blood cells of an allergic individual produce an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE), which attaches to the allergen. This triggers the release of histamine and other inflammatory chemicals that cause allergic symptoms (incl leukotrienes), such as runny nose, watery eyes and hives.
If the allergen is airborne, the allergic reaction will primarily affect the eyes, nose and lungs. If the allergen is ingested, the allergic reaction will primarily affect the mouth, stomach and intestines. If enough inflammatory chemicals are released, a reaction such as hives or rash could occur throughout the body. The most severe allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis, can lead to low blood pressure, breathing difficulties, shock, and loss of consciousness, all of which can be fatal.
Allergies are extremely common, affecting more than 20% of the UK population. The most common allergy triggers include pollen, dust mites, moulds, animal dander, latex, foods and insect venom.
Allergic reactions can be classified into four immunopathologic categories using various classification systems. The Gell and Coombs allergic classification system is based on the immune system’s response to the allergen, not on the severity of the reaction.
Type I: Type I allergic reactions involve immunoglobulin E (IgE), which is specific for a particular drug, antigen or other allergen that triggers the allergic reaction. The allergen binds to the immunoglobulin on specific immune cells called basophils and mast cells. This binding results in the release of chemicals that cause inflammation in the body (such as histamine, serotonin, proteases, bradykinin generating factor, chemotactic factors from immune cells, leukotrienes, prostaglandins and thromboxanes) within 30 minutes of exposure. These chemical mediators cause allergy symptoms, such as urticaria (hives), runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing, wheezing and itching. This type of allergic reaction is often seen with penicillin, latex, blood products and vaccines.
Type II: This classification is called a cytotoxic reaction because it involves the destruction of the host cells. An antigen associated with a specific cell initiates cytolysis (breakdown of the cell) by an antigen-specific antibody, such as immunoglobulin G (IgG) or immunoglobulin M (IgM). This reaction often involves blood elements, such as red blood cells, white blood cells or platelets. It often occurs within five to 12 hours of exposure to the allergen, which may include penicillin, quinidine, phenylbutazone, thiouracils, sulfonamides or methyldopa.
Type III: This category involves the formation of an antigen-antibody immune complex, which deposits on blood vessel walls and activates cell components called complements. This causes a serum sickness-like syndrome, involving fever, swelling, skin rash and enlarged lymph nodes, in about three to eight hours. It may be caused by a variety of allergens, including penicillins, sulfonamides, intravenous (IV) contrast media and hydantoins.
Type IV: This classification involves delayed cell-mediated reactions. Antigens on the allergen release inflammatory mediators within 24 to 48 hours of exposure. This type of reaction is seen with graft rejection, latex, contact dermatitis and tuberculin reaction.
Improving immune response to allergens can involve the use of concentrated food supplements and inflammation-modifying nutrients and probiotics. Often this involves in direct support for the body’s mucosal immune system referred to as the Common Mucosal Immune System (CMIS). This, together with supportive strategies of avoidance and rotation, can assist in returning many cases of food and environment reactivity to more acceptable levels.
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- American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. www.aaaai.org.
- Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Rhinitis and Sinusitis. www.aafa.org.
- Seltzer, A. P. Minimizing post-operative edema and ecchymoses by the use of an oral enzyme preparation (bromelain). A controlled study of 53 rhinoplasty cases. Eye Ear Nose Throat Mon. 1962;41:813-817. View Abstract
- Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. http://www.naturalstandard.com. Copyright © 2007.
- Neugut AI, Ghatak AT, Miller RL. Anaphylaxis in the United States: an investigation into its epidemiology. Arch Intern Med. 2001 Jan 8;161(1):15-21. View Abstract
- Costalos C, Skouteri V, Gounaris A, et al. Enteral feeding of premature infants with Saccharomyces boulardii. Early Hum.Dev. 2003;74(2):89-96. View Abstract.
- Rosenfeldt V, Benfeldt E, Nielsen SD, et al. Effect of probiotic Lactobacillus strains in children with atopic dermatitis. J.Allergy Clin.Immunol. 2003;111(2):389-395. View Abstract
- Kumazawa Y et al. (2006) Immunomodulating effects of flavonoids on acute and chronic inflammatory responses caused by tumor necrosis factor alpha., Curr Pharm Des. 12(32):4271-9. View Abstract