Allergies: Questions You Have... Answers You Need

Overview

The People's Medical Society is America's largest nonprofit consumer health advocacy organization and, since 1983 has been the consumer's voice in any and all health-care debates and issues. For the fifty million Americans who suffer from allergies, here is the one indispensable resource that answers questions on everything from what triggers allergic reactions to the treatments that bring them under control, including:

  • What diagnostic tests ...
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Overview

The People's Medical Society is America's largest nonprofit consumer health advocacy organization and, since 1983 has been the consumer's voice in any and all health-care debates and issues. For the fifty million Americans who suffer from allergies, here is the one indispensable resource that answers questions on everything from what triggers allergic reactions to the treatments that bring them under control, including:

  • What diagnostic tests help rule out other illnesses and pinpoint a specific allergy?
  • Is there any way to prevent allergies from developing?
  • What are the symptoms of respiratory allergies?
  • When do symptoms signal real trouble — and require immediate medical attention?
  • What is the difference between food allergy and food intolerance?
  • What are the leading allergy medications?
  • How can one decide whether to use a decongestant, an antihistamine, or a combination drug?
  • How successful is immunotherapy?

Americans spend more than $500 million on over-the-counter allergy remedies;one in five of us suffer from some kind of allergy. Allergies cause nearly 10 percent of all missed work days and cost society more than $1.8 billion in direct and indirect costs.

"...explains the types of allergies, triggers that set them off, and treatments."

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Written in easy-to-understand language, Hay's guide reviews allergy testing and explains why the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) considers certain ones controversial. There is also a good discussion of traditional treatments and medications. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380814749
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/6/2001
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 4.18 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Jennifer Hay, senior editor with the People's Medical Society, is the author of three other People's Medical Society books on hearing loss, dementia, and Alzheimer's.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Allergy Basics

Q: What is allergy?

A: Allergy is an abnormal reaction to a substance that is usually considered harmless. These substances, which can be inhaled, ingested or even absorbed through the skin, are known as allergens. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of ordinary substances can function as allergens. Among the most common are:

  • pollens, the male reproductive cells of flowering plants, including trees, grasses and weeds
  • molds, small fungi that reproduce by producing airborne spores
  • animal dander, minute bits of sloughed-off skin
  • dust, which can contain pollen, mold spores, animal dander, fiber and other allergens
  • foods such as milk, wheat, eggs, peanuts, soybeans and shellfish
  • medicines such as penicillin, penicillin-related an-tibiotics and sulfa drugs
  • insect venom and secretions, including venom from stinging insects such as bees and substances secreted by biting insects such as mosquitoes and fleas

Q: Why does the body react abnormally to these substances?

A: It's essentially a case of mistaken identity. Allergy occurs when the body's immune system, which is designed to attack harmful foreign invaders such as bacteria, viruses and parasites, mistakes a harmless substance for a harmful substance and attacks it in an effort to protect the body.

Q: What types of reactions does this attack produce?

A: Allergic reactions can manifest themselves in many ways and may involve any part or system of the body. When most people think of allergy, they think of the sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion and itchy, watery eyes ofwhat is called hay fever. But allergy can also affect the skin, the digestive system and the entire body. A person may react to an allergen by developing a rash, breaking out in hives or experiencing localized swelling. She may have stomach cramps or diarrhea. Or she may experience a dangerous systemicreaction known as anaphylaxis, which can ultimately result in shock and heart failure. And allergy often plays a role in triggering asthma, a chronic lung disease that affects more than 15 million Americans and kills an estimated 5,000 of those people each year.

Q: So allergy can be serious?

A: Yes. While most allergic reactions are not dangerous, some can be deadly. Several hundred Americans die of anaphylactic shock each year. This most severe allergic reaction can be triggered by allergens ranging from insect venom, food and drugs to common respiratory allergens such as pollen.

Q: But serious reactions aren't the norm in people with allergies, are they?

A: Fortunately, no. For the vast majority of people, allergy simply causes discomfort and inconvenience. But that's not to downplay the significance of allergy, which in 1990 (the latest year in which these statistics were studied) accounted for more than 9.3 percent of all missed workdays and cost society more than $1.8 billion in direct and indirect costs, including lost wages and health care. We say “more than” because the figures take into account only the costs of hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, the most common form of allergic disease. They do not include the costs of other allergic diseases. Allergy also has a profound effect on the quality of life ofits sufferers. According to a 1993 survey of 800 people who have allergies, conducted by the Market Research Institute of Kansas City, Missouri, 41 percent believe their quality of life is adversely affected by their allergies. This adverse effect is reflected in lost workdays, canceled social activities and altered appearance.

Q: How common is allergy?

A: Approximately 50 million Americans -' 1 in 5 -' have allergies, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Hay fever alone prompted 9.2 million visits to the doctor in 1994, the latest year for which information is available from the National Center for Health Statistics. Asthma generated 31.9 million visits; contact dermatitis and other allergic skin conditions, 6.5 million visits.

The number of prescriptions written or shots given for allergy relief that year was 9.9 million. And that figure doesn't include the millions of over-the-counter remedies people bought to treat their allergies.

Q: Who develops allergy?

A: Allergy is an equal opportunity disease: It can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, race or socioeconomic factors. Children are more likely than adults to develop allergies, but a first attack can occur at any age.

Q: Do people ever grow out of allergies?

A: Some people do. Allergies can change with time. Symptoms can improve or become worse, allergies can disappear, or new allergies can develop. Many infants and young children with eczema, an allergic skin disease, outgrow it as they age, for example. On the flip side, however, many children with eczema develop other allergies later in life.

Q: So I take it allergies can't be cured?

A: Not really. As we said, it is possible for a person to grow out of an allergy or experience a reduction in allergy symptoms, but there is no medical cure for allergy. Fortunately, however, a variety of treatments and preventive techniques can be used to lessen the severity of allergy symptoms and bring allergies under control. We discuss treatment and prevention in detail in chapters 8, 9 and 10.

Q: Getting back to those kids with eczema who later develop other allergies, are they simply more prone to allergy than other people?

A: Yes. Some people are considered atopic, meaning they have a tendency

to develop allergic reactions.

Q: Where does this tendency come from?

A: It is inherited. Although allergies themselves are not inherited, the genetic predisposition to develop them is. If one or both of your parents have allergies, you are more likely to develop an allergic condition.

Q: How much more likely?

A: If one of your parents has allergies, your chance of developing an allergy -' any allergy -' is 20 to 50 percent. If both of your parents have allergies, your odds rise to 40 to 75 percent. And if neither of your parents has allergies, your chance of developing them drops to between 5 and 15 percent.

Q: If I still have a chance of contracting allergies even if neither of my parents has them, I take it heredity isn't the only factor?

A: No. Although heredity plays a major role in determining whether or not you will develop allergies, it is not the only factor. Environment also plays a role.

Allergies. Copyright © by Jennifer Hay. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 8
Ch. 1 Allergy Basics 11
Ch. 2 The Immune System and the Mechanics of Allergy 16
Ch. 3 Diagnosing Allergy 27
Ch. 4 Respiratory Allergies 46
Ch. 5 Skin Allergies 67
Ch. 6 Food, Drug and Insect Allergies 86
Ch. 7 Irritants, Sick Buildings and Clinical Ecology 107
Ch. 8 Prevention 113
Ch. 9 Medical Management 122
Ch. 10 Immunotherapy 151
Informational and Mutual-Aid Groups 163
Glossary 165
Suggested Reading 176
On-Line Resources 178
Index 180
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