It is fairly common for people to experience allergies, either due to seasonal changes or to intrinsic bodily factors. The purpose of this sample health essay is to discuss the nature of allergens and allergic reactions.
Allergens and allergic reactions
In essence, an allergen is simply the name for a substance that can cause allergic reactions within humans. A given allergen can generally be understood as falling into one of three categories:
- Pollen and other substances from growing plants or animals that can irritate the body’s respiratory symptoms; these allergens are the ones that are primarily responsible for what is called seasonal allergies
- Foods and consumable products that trigger allergic reactions when consumed by persons predisposed to such reactions
- Miscellaneous chemical substances including medications such as penicillin and chemicals that can be found in various household cleaners and metals
Pathophysiology of allergens and reactions
It will be worthwhile now, then, to turn to a consideration of the actual pathophysiology of the allergic reaction. This primarily has to do with the body’s immune system: more specifically, the immune system reacts in a hypersensitive way to a common substance that it perceives as an intrusive threat. Nursing Times, for example, has indicated the following:
“The immune response is dependent of the body’s two subsets of T-lymphocytes known as T helper cells TH1 and TH2. In the normal immune response, TH1 cells release a range of mediators to help the body to defend against invasion.
In atopic individuals, TH2 cells and their mediators and their mediators encourage the immune system to recognize allergens as an invader and mount a response against them” (paragraphs 8-9).
The effects produced by this immune response are in fact the classic symptoms of the allergic reaction. These include problems of the respiratory system (such as a runny nose), problems with the digestive system (such as stomach cramps), and even the severe reaction known as anaphylactic shock, which is a potentially life-threatening condition (National Institute of Health).
Recent statistics and research
One of the most interesting, and also most disconcerting, statistical facts about allergic reactions is that the number of people who suffer from them has increased sharply over the course of the last several years. As Food Allergy Research & Education has indicated:
“According to a study released in 2013, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011” (1).
It used to be the case that having a child with an allergy within a given classroom was a relatively rare situation. Now, though, it has become almost more the norm than the exception, with parents and teachers being constantly reminded about the problem of allergic reactions. In addition, another important contributing factor to the sharp rise in prevalence of allergic reactions may be the prevalence of the use of antibiotics within modern society. Paulas advocates consuming organic foods and products that are devoid of these antibiotics and has indicated:
the main “culprit behind food allergies” may be “our antibiotics-happy culture,” because antibiotics can potentially cause “alteration and elimination of the bacteria that may keep allergens at bay” (paragraphs 10 and 12).
This is related to the broader point that has been made above regarding the relatively sterile environment produced by modern society. This extends to the human body itself, with the excessive prevalence of medications such as antibiotics resulting in the body losing the symbiotic bacteria that actually protect it from responding to environmental stimuli (such as allergens) in an inappropriate way.
Cutting back on allergy sensitive antibiotics
On the basis of what has been discussed above, a key recommendation that can be made regarding allergic reactions is that it is quite important to cut back on the level of antibiotic use within the modern world, and especially for children. As Nagler has clearly indicated:
“Not only food allergies, but so-called Diseases of Western Lifestyle seem to be increasing with the increasing use of antibiotics. There’s also antibiotic resistance. It’s not controversial to say that we need to be more judicious in our use of antibiotics” (paragraph 13).
In particular, it is important to refrain from giving antibiotics to children on the grounds that it is good to be safe “just in case,” even when the child is clearly only experiencing a viral (and not bacterial) illness of some kind. Such a rationale would necessarily be based on the assumption that antibiotics cannot cause positive harm, but the evidence would seem to indicate that such an assumption is very much unwarranted. Excessive use of antibiotics can essentially sterilize the body and thereby increase the risk of developing allergic reactions.
Moreover, another recommendation that can perhaps be made is that as a preventative intervention against allergic reactions, children in the modern world should be given therapies that can enhance the functioning of their immune systems. A strong immune system would likely recognize that an allergen is not a serious threat and thereby not overreact when it encounters one.
In a study conducted by Hankin et al., it was found that when children with allergic rhinitis (also known as hay fever) were given an immunotherapy intervention early on in the illness process, this significantly reduced the costs associated with addressing morbidity related to the illness over the long run. In short, since the modern world tends to reduce natural immune function relative to allergens, preventative medical interventions could work toward counteracting this weakness by attempting to improve the functioning of the immune system itself.
Allergy relief and remedies
Finally, it is worth referring to some of the basic allergy relief remedies can be used in order to avoid and/or control the symptoms of allergic reactions. Doheny has delineated three main strategies that can be used in this regard. The first is to know one’s allergen triggers and actively try to avoid those triggers; the second is to take physical measures, such as wearing masks while in the yard or closing windows when inside the house, to prevent contact between oneself and allergens, and the third is to get proper treatment that can minimize the symptoms of allergic reactions once those reactions are already underway.
This last recommendation can include the use of both over-the-counter medications one can find at the convenience store and prescription medications that can be given to one by the pharmacist. It may a good idea, however, to only use such medications for short-term relief and not as a continual preventative effort against allergic reactions. This is because of both the side effects often associated with antihistamines, including drowsiness, and more general concerns regarding the problematic nature of relying on any medication for the long term except when this is absolutely necessary.
Doheny, Kathleen. “Seasonal Allergies: 4 Routes to Relief.” WebMD. n.d. Web. 2 Aug. 2015. http://www.webmd.com/allergies/features/seasonal-allergies-4-routes-to-relief.
Food Allergy Research & Education. “Food Allergy Facts and Statistics for the U.S.” Author, 2013. Web. 2 Aug. 2015. http://www.foodallergy.org/document.doc?id=194.
Hankin, C. S., et al. “Allergen Immunotherapy and Health Care Cost Benefits for Students with Allergic Rhinitis: A Large-Scale, Retrospective, Matched Cohort Study.” Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology 104.1 (2010): 79-85. Print.
National Institute of Health. “Food Allergy” Medline Plus. n.d. Web. 2 Aug. 2015. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/foodallergy.html.
Nordqvist, Christian. “What Are Allergies? What Is an Allergy?” Medical News Today. 18 Sep. 2015. Web. 2 Aug. 2015. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/264419.php.
Nursing Times. “The Pathophysiology of Allergic Responses.” Author, 16 May 2006. Web. 2 Aug. 2015. http://www.nursingtimes.net/nursing-practice/specialisms/allergy/the-pathophysiology-of-allergic-responses/201295.article.
Paulas, Rick. “Reason Behind Increasing Food Allergies Discovered.” KCET. 28 Aug. 2014. Web. 2 Aug. 2015. http://www.kcet.org/living/food/food-rant/reason-behind-increasing-food-allergies-discovered.html.