What exactly is an ‘allergic reaction’?
What’s conjured up in your mind when an allergy is spoken about? Usually a runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes. Although these are the common symptoms of reactions, they are actually a chain of reactions, beginning in your own DNA. This is triggered through the immune system, designed to fend off any ‘invaders’ in the body.
For example, if you have an allergy to cat dander, your immune system identifies the dander as a foreign body, or an ‘allergen’. Your immune system overreacts, producing Immunoglobulin E, more commonly known as IgE, a form of antibody. These travel to cells to produce chemicals, causing an allergic reaction.
Each IgE is specific to its type of allergen; the more IgEs, the more allergies.
What about anaphylactic reactions?
More severe allergies are known as Anaphylaxis, a life threatening condition. It usually affects many areas of the body at once. Symptoms include itchy rashes, warm flushes, light-headedness, tightening of the throat, anxiety, cramps, diarrhoea and sickness. In extreme cases, it may result in drops in blood pressure, leading to loss of consciousness.
Caused once again by IgE, these antibodies are so sensitive that the most minute amounts of the allergen can set off a reaction.
In case of an anaphylactic reaction, immediate treatment is required: an epinephrine (adrenaline) injection, and a trip to the hospital. If the adrenaline isn’t administered, then the reaction can be fatal.