pollenAccording to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, 60 million people in the U.S. suffer from allergic diseases. Also, allergies are one of the leading cause of chronic disease in the US and cost the healthcare system over $18 billion dollars annually. A large portion of that money goes to some of the top grossing pharmaceutical drugs which are anti-histamines, the common side effects of which include: insomnia, dry mouth, fatigue, drowsiness, and sore throat.Not to mention that some of them are habit-forming and can create chemical dependence.

What exactly is an allergy though? We all know what the symptoms feel like, itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing, rashes, etc., but what exactly is going on inside our bodies that causes these reactions? While all the facts are stil not yet known, there is a lot we do know, and much of it can be helpful in creating relief for allergy sufferers.

An allergy can be defined as an inappropriate reaction of the immune system to a normally non-toxic substance. It comes from the Greek words: allos; other and ergon; action. This is because, normally, your immune system only activates your white blood cells to attack foreign and domestic invaders, sort of like the National Guard of your body. In some people, though, the immune system incorrectly identifies a harmless substance and overreacts so strongly that it results in more damage to the body than to the “enemy.” Some typical manifestations of an allergic reaction are nasal congestion, coughing, wheezing, itching, shortness of breath, headache, fatigue, hives and other skin rashes.

Any substance that triggers an allergic response is called an allergen. Theoretically, any substance can act as an allergen to someone, but the most typical allergens are pollen, dust, certain metals, some cosmetics, lanolin, animal hair, insect venom, food additives, chemicals in soap, washing powder and other cleaning supplies, and many other chemicals. Food allergies are also quite common. Typical food allergens are peanuts, chocolate, wheat, dairy products, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and eggs. While these may account for 90% of all allergies, many people are allergic to other foods and substances so do not rule out your symptoms as 'non-allergenic' because you don't react to the allergens we mentioned. Everyone is unique and so are your  potential allergens.

Lymphocytes, also known as white blood cells, are primarily responsible for the allergic reactions that occur. There are two types of lymphocytes:B-lymphocytes (B-cells) and T-lymphocytes (T-cells)

Both types help to guard your body against foreign substances such as invading bacteria, viruses and toxins. They move freely through and among the tissues of the body, travel through the walls of blood vessels, and move between the various lymph nodes and lymph channels. B-cells and T-cells go everywhere.

Lymphocytes operate by traveling throughout your body and checking each cell they encounter to determine if it is part of your body or a foreign invader. Whenever they discover a cell that seems threatening, they immediately begin countermeasures against it.wbc

When a lymphocyte encounters a particle or cell it deems a foreign invader, it records its important information, in a sense. After a B-cell identifies an antigen (an antigen is an invader cell that causes the body to produce antibodies; anti-antibody; gen-generator) it will make its way back to a lymph node, change into a plasma cell and produce antibodies specifically engineered to fight that particular invader.

There are five basic types of antibodies, called immunoglobulins, or Igs. Each is classified by type with a letter suffix:

• IgA

• IgD

• IgE

• IgG

• IgM


The Ig responsible for allergic reactions is IgE. IgE antibodies are present in everyone -- but remember those immune response genes mentioned previously? In a properly functioning immune system, the genetic code contains enough information to enable the lymphocytes to distinguish between threatening and non-threatening proteins. In an allergic person's immune system, the lymphocytes can't tell that the protein ingested as part of a meal containing shellfish isn't invading the body. The B-cells of an allergic person -- "misinformed" at the genetic level -- cause the production of large quantities of IgE antibodies that attach themselves to mast cells throughout the body.

Terms to Know

Allergen - any substance that causes an allergic reaction.

Antibody - a protein molecule made by a B-Cell in response to, and reactive with, a specific antigen

Antigen - a substance capable of causing the production of antibodies and then reacting specifically with these antibodies.

B-lymphocyte - a type of white blood cell capable of producing antibodies for antigens it encounters.

Histamine - a chemical present mainly in mast cells that, when normally released, is a powerful weapon against infection, but if released improperly, can cause many of the symptoms of allergy

IgE - the type of immunoglobulin antibody most commonly associated with allergic reactions.

Lymph nodes - small organs that process the body’s lymph, A clear, watery, sometimes faintly yellowish fluid derived from body tissues that contains white blood cells and circulates throughout the lymphatic system. Lymph acts to remove bacteria and certain proteins from the tissues, transport fat from the small intestine, and supply mature lymphocytes to the blood.

Mast cell - a type of cell in connective tissues that is normally supposed to help your body fight bacteria and viruses. It contains histamine and other allergy mediators.

Although mast cells are found in connective tissue and are a type of white blood cell, they have one thing in common to the allergy sufferer. They contain histamine, an important weapon in the body's arsenal for fighting infection. Unfortunately, when released into the body inappropriately or in too high a quantity, histamine is a potentially devastating substance.

It takes between a week and 10 days of sensitizing exposure for the mast cells to become primed with IgE antibodies. Then, if the allergen comes along again, it triggers a destructive domino effect within the system called the allergic cascade. Whether it's a protein molecule on a ragweed pollen particle that has been inhaled, or the injected protein in the venom of a wasp, the same sequence of events takes place:

• The IgE antibodies bound to the surfaces of mast cells recognize the protein surface markers of the allergen.

• The IgE antibodies react by binding to the protein surface markers while remaining attached to the mast cells.

• This binding alerts a group of special proteins called the complement complex that circulates in the blood.

There are about 20 proteins in this family of proteins, at least nine of which are involved in the allergic-response mechanism. After the IgE antibody (which is already attached to a mast cell) encounters and binds to its specific allergen, the first complement protein attaches itself to the site. This alerts the next complement protein in the sequence, which joins and alerts the next, and so on. When the string is complete, the offending cell is destroyed. This is fine in a normal immune system, as Ig antibodies latch onto surface markers of disease cells and cause their destruction. But in an allergic episode, the cells involved are mast cells.

sneezeWhen mast cells are destroyed, their stores of histamine and other allergy mediators are released into the surrounding tissues and blood. This causes dilation of surface blood vessels and a subsequent drop in blood pressure. The spaces between surrounding cells fill with fluid. Depending on the allergen or the part of the body involved, this brings on the various allergy symptoms, some of the most common being: Itching (body, eyes, nose), Hives, Sneezing, Wheezing, Nausea, Diarrhea and Vomiting.

The exposure-reaction time can vary depending on your body (how well you handle the exposure) and the allergen you were exposed to. In a mild case, you may only have mild itching or swelling. In a severe reaction, after exposure to the triggering antigen, you may suddenly develop hives over large areas of your body and begin having breathing difficulties (this is accompanied by a rapid and severe drop in blood pressure). Also, in a severe reaction, thinking becomes muddled as the brain and other vital organs become oxygen-starved. The brain and kidneys are especially vulnerable in this type of reaction and may be permanently damaged even if the victim survives.

To make matters worse, cell fluids dumped into the tissues of the throat can cause the throat to swell shut, leading to anaphylactic shock and death in as little as three or four minutes after exposure to the antigen or the onset of symptoms. Hundreds of people die annually from anaphylactic shock in the United States alone.

Currently, the only effective treatment for anaphylaxis is an intramuscular injection of epinephrine, a hormone the body produces naturally in the adrenal glands. Epinephrine counteracts the symptoms of anaphylaxis by constricting the blood vessels and opening the airways. The down side is that its effects last only 10 to 20 minutes per injection, it has some potentially serious side effects, and it must be administered correctly at or before the onset of symptoms to be effective. For example, some people experience this type of allergic reaction when stung by a bee. These people must wear a wrist band at all times and carry around an epinephrine injection wherever they go.bracelet

If you are experiencing allergy symptoms, you don't have to wait until you're having anaphylaxis until you do something about it. There are two ways to approach the problem: you can remove the allergen from your environment, or you can remove yourself from the environment of the allergen. While often this is much easier said than done, particularly for people who have no idea what plant pollen species or which dust releasing furniture is causing their allergies to act up, the most effective prevention method, as well as what will save you the most time, energy, stress, and money is to reduce the exposure time to the allergen as close to zero as possible. Without the allergen there can be no allergy.

If neither of these is a real option, you can attempt to reduce your body's immune response to the allergen. Most pharmaceuticals target the histamine, which is excellent in theory, but their chemical approaches carry the risk of several side-effects. There are, thankfully, many natural substances that can accomplish the same goal without side-effects.

Quercetin, a powerful bioflavonoid that has been shown to help prevent the breakdown of mast cells and thus redcuing the release of histamine, and preventing the allergic cascade.

Perilla seed extract is also rich in flavonoids which help improve respiratory and immune system function, which is extremely helpful for people who suffer from allergies that cause breathing difficulties.

Arabinoxylan which is a formula derived from shitake mushroom and rice bran, helps balance the immune system which is beneficial for allergy sufferers who tend to have overactive B-lymphocytes.

Allergies don't have to rule your life and prevent you from doing the things you want to do. By controlling yourself and your environment, plus a little natural assistance, you can regain that freedom.hiking