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Allergen: A substance that triggers an allergic reaction.

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Allergic Rhinitis: An allergy affecting the mucus membrane of the nose. Seasonal allergic rhinitis is often called "hay fever."

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Allergist: A doctor that diagnoses, treats, and manages allergy-related conditions.

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Ana-Kit: A device used to inject epinephrine during an anaphylaxis attack.

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Anaphylaxis: A life-threatening allergic reaction that involves the entire body. Anaphylaxis may result in shock or death, and thus requires immediate medical attention

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Animal dander: The small scales or pieces of skin, often containing proteins secreted by oil glands, which are shed by an animal. These proteins are the major causes of allergies to pets.

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Antibiotics: A class of medications used to treat bacterial infections. Certain antibiotics, such as penicillin, may cause an allergic reaction in some people.

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Antibody: A protein in the immune system that recognizes and attacks foreign substances in the body.

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Anticonvulsant: A medication used to prevent or treat seizures. Certain anticonvulsants may cause an allergic reaction in some people.

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Antihistamines: A class of medications used to block the action of histamines in the body and prevent the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

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Asthma: An inflammatory disorder of the airways, causing periodic attacks of wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath.

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Atopic dermatitis: A chronic skin rash, also known as "eczema," that often appears in the first few years of life.

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Basophil: An immune system cell that attaches to antibodies and circulates through out the blood.

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Beta-blockers: A class of blood pressure medications that ease the heart's pumping action and widen the blood vessels. Beta-blockers counteract the effects of epinephrine used for emergency treatment of anaphylactic shock and should not be used during immunotherapy.

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Bronchial tubes: The lower sections of the airway that lead into the lungs.

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Challenge test: A test used to confirm an allergy to specific substance. A doctor will administer small but increasing amounts of a suspected allergen until an allergic response is noticed. Due to the risk of anaphylaxis, this should only be performed under a controlled setting.

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Conjunctivitis: Inflammation of the conjunctiva, or the mucous membrane surrounding the eye. Also known as pinkeye.

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Contact dermatitis: An allergic reaction resulting from skin contact to an allergen.

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Corticosteroid: An anti-inflammatory medication used to treat the itching and swelling associated with some allergic reactions.

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Cromolym sodium: An anti-inflammatory nasal spray used to treat and sometimes prevent allergic rhinitis.

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Decongestants: A class of medications used for nasal congestion. Decongestants are available in oral doses, nasal sprays, or eye drops (for conjunctivitis).

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Dust mites: A microscopic organism that lives in dust.

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Eczema: See Atopic dermatitis.

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Eosinophil: A specific type of immune cell that can cause tissue damage in the late phase of an allergic reaction.

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Epinepherine: A medication used for immediate treatment of anaphylaxis by raising blood pressure and heart rate back to normal levels. Epinepherine is also known as adrenaline.

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EpiPen: A device used to inject epinephrine during an anaphylaxis attack.

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Heparin: A chemical released by basophils and mast cells that causes nearby tissues to become swollen and inflamed.

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Histamine: A chemical released by basophils and mast cells that causes nearby tissues to become swollen and inflamed.

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Hives: See urticaria.

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Hypertension: High blood pressure. When blood pushes against artery walls harder than normal.

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Immunoglobulin E: A type of antibody responsible for most allergic reactions.

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Immunotherapy: A series of shots that help build up the immune system's tolerance to an allergen.

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Insulin: A hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. Diabetics who take insulin derived from animals may have allergic reactions.

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Intradermal test: A test where an allergen is injected just underneath the skin. Intradermal tests are generally used when results from a skin prick test are unclear.

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Late Phase: The period 4 - 24 hours after exposure to an allergen where tissue damage may occur.

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Leukotrienes: Inflammatory substances that are released by mast cells during an allergic response or asthma attack.

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Lymphocyte: A specific type of immune cell that can cause tissue damage in the late phase of an allergic reaction.

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Mast cell: An immune system cell which attaches to antibodies and is located in the tissue that lines the nose, bronchial tubes, gastrointestinal tract, and the skin

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Neocromil sodium: An inhaled medication used to treat inflammation involved with asthma.

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Neutrophil: A specific type of immune cell that can cause tissue damage in the late phase of an allergic reaction.

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Otitis media: A middle ear infection. Otitis media with effusion occurs when fluid builds up within the ear.

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Radioallergosorbant Test (RAST): A blood test that measures the amount of IgE antibody produced when the sample is mixed with a specific allergen.

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Rhinitis: An inflammation of the nasal passageways, particularly with discharge.

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Sinusitis: An inflammation or infection of one or more sinuses. The sinuses are hollow air spaces located around the nose and eyes.

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Skin prick test: A test where a needle is used to scratch the skin with a small amount of allergen. A response can usually be seen within 15 - 20 minutes.

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Urticaria: Raised areas of the skin that are often red, warm, and itchy. Urticaria is also known as hives.

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Urushiol: An oil found on poison ivy, oak, and sumac.

If you are still experiencing symptoms despite your efforts to avoid allergens, you might explore medication options. Regardless of which medications you select, read the product labels and know the side effects. The following list includes the most common allergy treatments (both over-the-counter and prescription) and the specific allergic conditions they treat.

Particularly when treating children for allergies, it is wise to consult with your helath care provider. Some of the medications are not as effective in children, and some of the medications can affect behavior and sleep, as well as cause more serious side effects.

Antihistamines -- As the name implies, antihistamines counter the effects of histamine released during an allergic reaction. They are widely used to treat many allergy-related conditions. They are often combined with decongestants and are available in a variety of over-the-counter formulas (such as Advil Allergy Sinus, Alavert Allergy & Sinus, Benadryl, Chlor-Trimeton, Claritin, Contac, Dimetap, Robitussin Cough & Allergy, Triaminic Cold and Allergy, and Tylenol Allergy) and by prescription (such as Allegra, Clarinex, and Zyrtec). Some may cause drowsiness and slowed reaction time. Others do not. Antihistamine nasal sprays are also available to treat allergic rhinitis (e.g., Astelin). Antihistamine eye drops may also be used for quick relief of itchy eyes associated with allergies (such as Patanol).

Leukotriene blockers -- Leukotrienes are another substance released in the body that trigger allergic symptoms such as a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, postnasal drip, or wheezing. Montelukast sodium (Singulair) is a prescription medicine that can prevent symptoms by blocking leukotrienes. It is used in adults and in children as young as 2 years. It is also used to treat asthma.

Decongestants -- People who experience nasal congestion (stuffy nose) due to allergies or sinusitis sometimes consider oral or nasal spray decongestants for relief. Decongestants are also included in eye drops to decrease redness caused by conjunctivitis. They work by constricting blood vessels and reducing swelling. Be careful when using some nasal spray decongestants. If you use them for a prolonged period (longer than 3 - 4 days), you may experience a "rebound" effect, where nasal congestion symptoms return. Concerns have been raised about oral decongestants and their side effects and potential for abuse. They are now available behind the counter. Ask your pharmacist.

Corticosteroids -- These anti-inflammatory agents are used to treat the itching and swelling associated with a variety of allergic disorders. The most commonly used forms are corticosteroid nasal sprays for allergic rhinitis and sinusitis (such as Flonase, Nasalide, Nasocort, Nasonex, Rhinocort), over-the-counter topical corticosteroid creams for hives, dermatitis, and insect sting reactions, and inhaled corticosteroids for asthma. Oral or injected corticosteroids are used less frequently for more severe cases of asthma, dermatitis, or other allergic reactions.

Cromolyn Sodium/Nedocromil Sodium -- These are another type of anti-inflammatory medication. Cromolyn sodium nasal spray can be used to treat and sometimes prevent allergic rhinitis. It works by preventing the release of histamine from mast cells. Cromolyn nasal spray is available over the counter and is gentle and effective. It generally takes a few days to start working. Eyedrop versions are available for itchy, bloodshot eyes. Inhaled nedocromil sodium is used to treat inflammation due to asthma, which can be exacerbated by allergies.

Epinephrine -- Epinephrine (adrenalin) is used for emergency treatment in cases of anaphylaxis due to insect sting, food, or drug allergies. It is most commonly administered with a device called an injectable epinephrine kit (such as EpiPen or Twinject). Epinephrine constricts the small blood vessels in the skin and mucous membranes, which increases blood pressure and heart rate back to normal levels. Epinephrine also is an antihistamine.

 

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Review Date: 7/10/2007

Reviewed By: Alan Greene, M.D., F.A.A.P., Department of Pediatrics, Packard Children's Hospital, Stanford University School of Medicine; Chief Medical Officer, A.D.A.M., Inc.


The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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