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Education is key in dealing with allergies
Health advice
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I’m guessing there are very few families living in the Southeast Georgia area who don’t have at least one member suffering from allergies. The reason is quite simple: We live in one of the “allergy belts” of the United States. The incidence of allergic diseases in the United States usually ranges from between 23-30 percent of the population, but in our region, it can be significantly higher.
Allergic reactions are caused when a person’s immune system interacts with foreign proteins (or allergens) in the outside world. If the immune reaction induced by these allergens involves IgE antibodies, the possibility exists for an allergic reaction to occur. The tendency to become allergic to allergens is predetermined by a person’s genetic makeup and is inherited in families. If one of your parents has allergies, there is a higher-than-normal chance you will also have allergies. This risk increases if both parents are allergic to something.
New residents often want to know when the allergy season will be over. Sorry folks — the allergy season in our area is never-ending. In spring, we have tree pollen season, which runs into summer’s grass and weed pollen season. In the fall, people may experience both ragweed and mold allergies. Presently, we are in the “indoor allergy season.”  
This can be a bad season for those of us who are allergic to perfumes and scented candles, so take that into account when planning Christmas parties or inviting folks over for egg nog or turkey dinners.
The causes of allergies are not fully understood. Allergens can be inhaled, eaten, injected (from stings or medicine), or they can come into contact with the skin. Some of the more common allergens are:
• pollens
• molds
• house dust mites
• animal dander and saliva (cat, dog, horse, rabbit)
• chemicals used in industry
• venom from insect stings
• foods
• medications
Allergies have different names depending on where in the body the reaction occurs. If an allergic reaction occurs in the nose, eyes and sinuses, physicians call it allergic rhinitis. If the allergic reaction occurs in the lungs, it is called asthma. The most common diseases caused by allergy mechanisms are hay fever (allergic rhinitis), asthma, eczema (allergic dermatitis), contact dermatitis, food allergy and hives.
The most frequent foods responsible for causing allergic reactions are nuts, milk, egg, wheat and soybean proteins. Unfortunately, there are also food preservatives that may bring on allergy symptoms. These preservatives include metabisulfite and monosodium glutamate. Metabisulfites are present in most wines. Fatal allergic reactions are usually caused by severe reactions to foods such as shellfish, peanuts and cod, or to stinging insects such as yellow jackets and fire ants.
Proper allergy treatments involve three fundamental principles:
• Avoidance: Stay away from the known irritant or allergen responsible for inducing the state of hypersensitivity.
• Drug therapy: This should be used when avoidance of a specific allergen source, such as house dust or certain pollens, is impossible.
• Specific allergen immunotherapy: Allergy injections are used to prevent the progression of the allergic disease when avoidance and drug therapy fail to control the inflammation involved in a person’s allergic disease. It is important to point out that allergen immunotherapy is the only treatment available today that can actually change a patient’s immune system back toward normal.
Educated victims of allergies and asthma do much better in life than those patients who are under-diagnosed and under-treated. Researchers are studying ways to go beyond today’s treatments. We soon may have ways to block the body’s allergic response by reducing or inhibiting the release of histamines and other chemicals that cause allergic reactions.

Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.
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