Two factors come into play with all allergic reactions. These are the allergen and the person who is sensitive to it. An allergen is any substance that causes an allergic reaction in an individual. To understand some of the common causes of allergic reactions, a little simple science is all that is needed.
Why do Allergic Reactions Happen
The immune system of the body releases antibodies to anything it views as a foreign substance. Bacteria, viruses and even transplanted organs have a genetic signature that does not match that of an individual. Therefore, the immune system sees them as something foreign, which the body needs to eliminate.
To do that, white blood cells move to an area where the foreign substance is located. In the case of an allergen, those are usually proteins such as pollen or those found in certain foods like milk or peanuts. The white blood cells then cause the release of histamines and enzymes into the surrounding fluid to envelop the foreign protein.
However, there enters the second factor in allergic reactions which is you, the sufferer.
Are Allergic Reactions Hereditary
For reasons not fully clear but having a known genetic factor, the immune system of some individuals overreacts. It produces too much for too long of these allergen fighting substances. The result is the familiar watery eyes, itchy skin, runny nose and other common allergy symptoms.
That sensitivity is not necessarily a fixed amount, either. Repeated exposure over a period can cause a 'ramp up' to an allergic reaction. As an example, consider allergic reactions to dust.
We inhale dust all the time. Some people can do this for a lifetime and never produce anything more than an ordinary sneeze. The body filters out the material and all goes on as normal. However, the dust also carries dust mites, who shed proteins in their waste. Over time, some people will gradually generate an overly strong immune system reaction to those proteins.
The underlying genetic factor has not been precisely identified. Nevertheless, statistically, it is known that allergies tend to run in families. Still, there are environmental factors, beyond the mere presence or absence of allergens, which play a role as well.
Allergic Reactions in Infants
For example, breast fed babies tend to have fewer allergies, even within families known to be at greater risk. For the first few weeks after birth, the baby's immune system is not yet fully developed. Mothers aid in that process by delivering antibodies during feeding that the child does not yet create on its own.
It might appear at first blush that stomach acid would destroy the helpful antibody proteins given in breast milk and colostrums. However, unlike adults, babies produce much less stomach acid. Therefore, a percentage of the prolactin and other helpful compounds survive the infant's digestive process. The process is also helped by the fact that immuno-proteins are glycosylated, a kind of wrapper that helps protect them from being broken down in the child's stomach.
The full details of allergic reactions are still a matter of ongoing research. Even so, there are many things a person can do to minimize their risks. Before showing how, we need to know a little bit more about how the immune system works.