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What is an allergy?

Megan Kinder [email protected]

Over 4 million people scour the internet each month asking the same question: "What is an allergy?"

The two most common health definition of an allergy is:

  • A damaging immune response by the body to a substance, esp. pollen, fur, a particular food, or dust, to which it has become hypersensitive.

OK... so What exactly IS an allergy?

An allergy is simply the immune system reacting inappropriately to a harmless substance or "Stressor". The immune system acts as the body's police department, eliminating substances that have entered the body from the environment that can do damage. An allergy or stress response can be from just about any substance that we eat, smell or touch. In many instances, the sufferer is not even aware that he or she is allergic to a particular substance.

The immune system, or the body's police department, uses an ingenious method to ward off offending substances; whether that offending substance is truly dangerous or not (as is the case with an allergen) the method is the same. Circulating in the blood are antibodies which act like police officers. The offending substance can be thought of as a criminal. Police officers (antibodies) patrol the blood looking for criminals (offending substances/allergens). Sometimes, harmless substances, like dust, are mistaken for dangerous substances. When this occurs, the immune response springs into action and sends its police officers, the antibodies, out to find those allergen molecules, or criminals, in an attempt to neutralize (arrest) them. When the antibodies capture the allergen molecules, the arrest is made!

When the allergen molecule is captured by the antibodies, the production of certain chemical mediators such as histamine is stimulated. These chemical mediators are responsible for the allergy symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, itchy/watery eyes, scratchy throat and a myriad of other conditions. Let's not forget, however, that in this case the criminal has been falsely accused!

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