Allergies and the management of their symptoms can be irritating at best – and downright dangerous at worst. You’re concerned about your new allergy symptoms, or worried about a family member who always seems to be sneezing – you’re not alone. Allergies (both environmental and food) are on the rise and affecting more people than ever. In this article, we’re covering a comprehensive approach on causes, symptoms, and how to treat allergies.
Normally, your body uses antibodies (proteins made by white blood cells) to attack bacterial and viral infections. But when your body detects an irritant or “allergen”, it reacts in a slightly different way.
The allergen often penetrates the soft tissues of your skin, nose, mouth, throat, lungs, digestive tract or the conjunctiva of your eyes but can also be injected directly into the bloodstream (like a bee sting or medication injection). Your body contains a type of white blood cell called mast cells and they are concentrated in these areas as the first line of attack against allergens.
When an allergen is first detected, your immune system creates a specific antibody to target it, known as immunoglobulin E (IgE). IgE circulates through your blood and attaches to these mast cells. This interaction causes the mast cells to release histamine (a chemical that causes blood vessels to leak which causes swelling), heparin (a blood thinner), and other chemicals known as leukotrienes and cytokines leading to what we know as an allergic reaction.
These symptoms can be localized or systemic and range from mild to life-threatening. However, a benign exposure to food can unexpectedly cause an allergic reaction to occur with a food you’ve enjoyed before with no ill effects. An allergic reaction is more likely to happen if you are already dealing with an autoimmune disease or “leaky gut”.
Allergic reactions happen when IgE attaches to your mast cells. When IgE encounters allergens, it stimulates the mast cells to “degranulate” or break down, spilling their contents, which are called “mast cell mediators”. Mediators include histamines, leukotrienes, and cytokines. Mediators are responsible for an inflammatory response in a milder form, but also what provokes a serious anaphylactic response.
Histamine causes an inflammatory response to reject the allergens. Your body thinks it’s protecting you when you experience stereotypical allergy symptoms, such as when your skin itches or your nose and eyes run. An allergy to food you’ve eaten may result in more extreme symptoms as your body attempts to remove the allergen from within – through stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
The more times you encounter an allergen, the harder your body works to eject it and the stronger your inflammatory response becomes. If you experience inflammation often, you run the risk of developing an autoimmune or inflammatory disorder.
The following are the most common triggers of food allergies:
Cow’s Milk – This is the most common food allergy under the age of three. Children usually outgrow it, but if you suspect you have an intolerance, it may be beneficial to cut out dairy completely.¹ Some children experience recurrent upper respiratory infections or ear infections from cow’s milk, yogurt, or cheese. Although not an allergic-type reaction, this can be a serious cause of suffering and repeated illness.
Soy – Soy is the most popular dairy alternative, but it can also cause an allergic reaction in children. We do not recommend consuming soy products as they most commonly come from a genetically modified crop in the US.
Fish & Shellfish – This allergy is on the rise.² While fish allergy is often grown out of a shellfish allergy, it can begin at any time but it typically begins in the teen years onward. Fish allergies are usually very serious and can cause anaphylactic shock which can be fatal.
Eggs – Often another childhood allergy. The child may grow out of it if they can tolerate well-cooked eggs, but must carry an epinephrine auto-injector at all times.³
Peanuts & Tree Nuts – This is the allergic response we all hear about. Too many children die as a result of inadvertent exposure. Peanuts are not tree nuts, they are legumes. Both peanuts and tree nut allergies are typically serious and potentially deadly.⁴ Tree nuts include almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, and pistachios. If you have an allergy to peanuts or tree nuts, you must keep an epinephrine auto-injector with you at all times.
Wheat & Gluten – Wheat allergies trigger an inflammatory response in the gut, causing bloating, fatigue, and stomach pain. Systemic symptoms can also be seen. In celiac disease, which is on the rise, your immune system is confused and attacks the tissues of your intestinal wall when gluten-containing food is consumed.⁵ Celiac disease is NOT an allergic reaction. It is an autoimmune response. Both wheat allergies and celiac disease lead to intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and serious digestive issues resulting in nutrient deficiencies. Wheat also contains proteins known as amylase-trypsin-inhibitors (ATIs), which can also cause inflammation and worsen the symptoms of asthma, arthritis and IBS.
Food allergy symptoms can range from mild to severe. The symptoms can come on suddenly or several hours later, depending on the intensity of the contamination.
You or your child may experience:
You need to seek immediate medical help if you or your child experience signs of anaphylaxis, including:
Pollen – Hay fever is the most well-known environmental allergy, and it shows no sign of going away. Climate change and the prevalence of ragweed across the US often mean seasonal allergies can last until Fall.
Dust mites – While it may appear dust makes you sneeze, it’s actually these tiny organisms that are responsible for your inflammatory response. Dust mites love humid conditions and their particles can be found in bedding, carpets, and upholstered furniture. They can cause asthma in children, but bear in mind over-cleaning and dusting can make symptoms worse by spreading the mites instead of removing them.
Cockroaches – Cockroaches produce allergens in their saliva, feces, and shed body parts. You can undergo a blood test to identify the allergy, but the eradication of the pest from your home is necessary in order for symptoms to improve.
Mold & mildew – Toxic mold is a major concern for our certified Functional Medicine Physicians. However, mold-related illness and mold allergy are not the same. Many people are allergic to mold without having a mold-related illness. Environmental mold is found in every home and environment. Mold isn’t always visible and if you’re allergic to spores and particles you may need to keep a symptom diary to identify where you feel the worst.
Pet allergies – Domestic cats and dogs can produce allergens on their skin, fur, saliva, and urine. Pet allergies are characterized by sneezing and facial pain, and often a rash if the animal licks your skin. There are no true hypoallergenic breeds and people with a severe allergy may react to allergens trapped in pet owner’s clothes without direct contact with an animal. Toxins around the home – Toxins such as cigarette smoke, strong household chemicals, perfumes, pesticides, and water pollutants can all trigger an allergy-like response. This can be made worse by a lack of ventilation.
Symptoms of environmental allergies often resemble the milder form of food allergy symptoms. You should keep a trigger diary to figure out what is to blame.
You may experience:
The inflammation caused by allergies can contribute to existing conditions. These include, but are not limited to:
We advise you to adopt an anti-inflammatory diet to heal your body from within. You should avoid processed food, wheat, and use a process of elimination to identify food related symptoms.
Tackling environmental allergies is harder. It may involve a change of furnishing, cleaning products or pest control. It often takes weeks to pin down the cause without guidance. We can carry out allergen testing, which can pinpoint the causes of your allergic/inflammatory reactions and advise you on what steps to take.
One way to tackle both food and environmental allergies is with a course of sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT). SLIT is an alternative therapy to allergy shots and is needle-free. Your Functional Medicine Physician gives you small doses of an allergen under the tongue to build up your body’s resistance. This is a desensitization process just like allergy shots are. Desensitizing our immune system to an allergen is the well-established and most effective way to address allergies.
If you are suffering from unresolved allergies and/or an unexplained inflammatory response, you should seek care from experts in identifying and treating these types of health concerns. Dr. Scott Antoine or Dr. Ellen Antoine are certified Functional Medicine Physicians with extensive experience treating patients with food or environmental allergies in the Carmel or Indianapolis area and you can book an appointment by clicking here. We are also happy to speak with you at (317) 989-8463, Monday-Thursday, from 8AM – 5PM Eastern time.
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The Center for Fully Functional Health® is led by a team of award-winning, internationally recognized physicians, committed to providing personalized, life-changing care.