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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.

Susan, 53 (food allergies)


I did not know I had allergies until I was 32, when I discovered that I have a lot of them. It took me more than five years and lots of good humor to get my allergies under control, not to mention the three decades that passed before I knew what was making me sick. I have come to realize that treating allergies can be like peeling an artichoke: each symptom can lead to different underlying causes. Though medical tests and treatments helped me somewhat, my continuing efforts to accept my limitations and maintain an environment free from allergens are the reasons why I feel better now than I did 20 years ago.

For many years, I baffled doctors with my motley array of symptoms: throwing up, mild earaches, drained of energy. I was a one-woman science experiment. One day, after going through my usual list of ailments to my newest doctor, she suggested I might have allergies. This was a new one, and I perked up at the notion that my problems might be solved by a few easy shots. Dr. Debbie told me about an allergist she knew, but cautioned me strongly that I should not get my hopes up for a quick fix. Allergies can be hard to pinpoint, and difficult to treat.

I went to the allergist -- and I went back to the allergist. The skin-prick test had revealed a severe reaction to dust, which meant I would have to start taking allergy shots and de-dust my house. But like most people with allergies, I was still in the beginning of my journey. The shots seemed to work -- at least my throwing-up had stopped -- but I still got regular headaches and did not feel completely well. At this point my allergist told me to try taking "the food challenge" -- eliminate from my diet for two weeks each of the three most allergenic foods: eggs, milk, and wheat. It really was a challenge -- try finding six consecutive weeks when you can eat in every night, cooking everything from scratch, and omitting the three most common foods in the American diet!

It took me several weeks to prepare myself and my family for the first leg of the challenge. I decided to start with eliminating milk because it seemed like the most straightforward of the three. The night before going dairy-free, the whole family helped me test it out by going to a Chinese restaurant near our home. We ordered the usual array of dishes, including one that had a "velvet" sauce made from egg whites. We all enjoyed the dinner, but the next day I woke up with hives all over my body and a fever. Scientist that I am, I decided to change the food elimination schedule and start by cutting out eggs instead of milk. Four days into my egg-free diet I felt like a new person; I actually felt well!

Since my revelation about eggs, life has been much easier, and harder. I had to re-learn cooking, train myself not to give in to the temptation of cakes and other things made with eggs, and become skilled at knowing what foods may contain egg when there is no label to tell you. Food is more than physical sustenance; it is also social and emotional.

Besides all the other changes, I had to accept that I have food allergies. I do not like telling strangers about them, but sometimes I have to (like in a restaurant). I also have to trust that they understand the severity of my allergies, and will work in my best interest to help me avoid them. I had yet to discover my allergy to nuts, but peeling away all those other allergies helped me isolate and eliminate that one fairly quickly. After five years of shots, a complete diet revolution, and new housekeeping habits, I am finally healthy.

 

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Review Date: 4/4/2007

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.


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