Allergies & Asthma: Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is an allergy?

One of the marvels of the human body is that it can defend itself against harmful invaders such as viruses or bacteria. In some people, the body reacts to harmless substances such as dust, mold or pollen by producing an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). When patients with one of the allergic diseases (such as rhinitis or asthma) are exposed to these substances, the immune system then rallies its defenses, launching a host of complex chemical weapons to attack and destroy the supposed enemy. In the process, some unpleasant and, in extreme cases, life-threatening symptoms may be experienced.

Q: What causes an allergic reaction?

Hundreds or even thousands of ordinary substances can trigger allergic reactions. These are called “allergens.” Among the most common are plant pollens, molds, household dust (dust mites), animal dander, industrial chemicals, foods, medicines and insect stings.

An allergic reaction may occur anywhere in the body, but usually appears in the skin, eyes, lining of the stomach, nose, sinuses, throat and lungs — places where special immune system cells are stationed to fight off invaders that are inhaled, swallowed or come in contact with the skin.

Q: What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic, inflammatory lung disease characterized by recurrent breathing problems. People with asthma have acute episodes when the air passages in their lungs get narrower, and breathing becomes more difficult.┬áThe problem is an oversensitivity of the lungs and airways, which overreact to certain “triggers” and become inflamed and clogged.

Q: What causes asthma?

The cause of the lung abnormality that is asthma is not yet known. Through research, scientists have established that the disease is a special type of inflammation of the airway that leads to contraction of airway muscle, mucus production and swelling in the airways. The airways become overly responsive to environmental changes. The result is wheezing and coughing.

All questions and answers are taken from ACAAI

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