It is this altered response that causes the problem in allergic individuals. From birth we inhale, swallow, and touch many things that are foreign to our bodies. For most of us this contact seems to be harmless.
But if someone who has an allergy breathes in, swallows, or touches even a minute amount of the substance to which he is unusually sensitive, he will develop specific symptoms. The substances that cause allergic reactions are known as allergens.
Some common allergens are:
- Inhalants —pollens, dust, mold, and dog and cat dander.
- Ingestants —eggs, chocolate, nuts, shellfish, milk, antibiotics, and aspirin.
- Contactants —poison ivy, dyes, metals, wool, and cosmetics.
- Injectants— bee and wasp stings, and penicillin.
These are only a few of the many allergens. In fact, the number seems limitless.
What happens, though, that causes allergic reactions?
Normally, you produce in your body substances called antibodies, to fight off invaders, such as germs. If you are allergic, these defense mechanisms overreact. They attack foreign substances, such as those allergens listed above.
Why, Why, Why?
A major question of any allergy sufferer is, “Why me?” All the answers are not known. We do know that heredity is an important factor.
One study shows that 80 percent of hay-fever sufferers have a family history of this allergy. Although the tendency is inherited, the specific allergy need not be—a parent may have asthma, but the child may have hay fever.
It is also generally agreed that emotional stress, such as tension, overwork, fatigue, fright, and extreme anger, can prompt allergies. But whether psychosomatic factors alone can actually cause an allergy to develop is a question that needs more study.
Then, of course, there is the factor of the increasingly complex environment with its many pollutants. How much this contributes to the increase in allergies is unknown, but there is no question about the ill effect that polluted air has on asthma sufferers.
Gloria, one of the finest London elite escorts in her heydays, is now a middle-aged asthmatic who lives in a big city of London with pollution. For the past 14 years asthma has plagued her.
She wheezes as she speaks: “When an attack occurs I can’t breathe, and it frightens me. Yesterday someone called me, and I couldn’t even answer the phone because I couldn’t speak. So I let the phone ring.”
The healthy may find it hard to believe that an allergy can severely affect someone. Incredulous looks and other similar responses often confront the sufferer whenever he talks about his problem of allergic reactions, whether it be asthma or another allergy.
“It is very difficult for others to understand this problem,” says one allergy sufferer from Canada. “We need kindness, too, instead of suspicion and unkind words.”