Column: Your guide to allergies

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Commentary by Gerald Mick, MD, IU Health Physicians Primary Care – IU Health North Hospital

While our immune systems protect us from viruses and bacteria, they also can react — or overreact — to harmless materials, which trigger allergic reactions. Nearly 20 percent of Americans have some type of allergy. And while seasonal allergies with symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes and coughing are the most widely known allergies, many other substances, including foods, also can cause allergic reactions in some people.

Dust mites, pet dander, peanuts and seafood are other common allergens. People who are allergic to pet dander and dust can experience symptoms similar to seasonal allergies. They also may have red or itchy skin rashes or hives. Food allergies may cause a variety of symptoms, including stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Allergies to nuts and other substances, such as insect stings, may cause the most severe and potentially life-threatening reaction — anaphylaxis — which causes a drop in blood pressure, difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness and shock. Individuals with severe allergies carry epinephrine, a medication that stops severe allergic reactions. It comes in an auto-injector for quick and easy delivery.

It’s important to remember that people can be allergic to anything. Medications, latex, metals, household cleaning chemicals and perfumes and dyes are other common culprits. Severity of the allergic reaction can differ greatly from person to person. In some cases, the reaction is quite noticeable; in others, it may be so mild it’s virtually overlooked.

If you think you have an allergy, see your primary care doctor for an initial evaluation. Depending on the circumstances, he or she may refer you to an allergist. There are a variety of tests, including simple blood tests, to help pinpoint allergies. Working closely with your doctor, most common allergy symptoms can be relieved with treatments that include oral antihistamines or regular allergy shots.

Gerald Mick, MD, specializes in family medicine and is a guest columnist located at IU Health Physicians Primary Care – IU Health North Hospital in Carmel. He can be reached by calling the office at 317.688.5626. For more health information, subscribe to Strength In You at iuhealth.org/StrengthInYou.

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