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What are allergens?

Allergens are the substances that can cause allergies.  Technically, an allergen is a non-parasitic antigen capable of stimulating a Type-I hypersensitivity reaction in atopic individuals.  In layman’s terms, an allergen like pollen or a chemical is what causes people with allergies to sneeze or have an “allergic reaction”.

When your body is exposed to any foreign substance, your immune system responds to protect you from harm.  In the case of exposure to allergens, your immune system can overreact causing a variety of symptoms ranging from mild to severe.  Why does the body react to some substances and not others?  Each person’s immune system is equipped with certain sensitivities that might trigger an allergic response. 

Potential allergens exist almost everywhere.  They can be inhaled while breathing, ingested while eating, or deposited on our skin through the air or through touch.  While any substance can be an allergen, some of the most common include:

Animal Products Drugs Foods Insect Stings
Fur and dander Penicillin Peanuts Bee sting venom
Wool Sulfonamides Fruits Wasp sting venom
Dust mite excretions Salicylates Grains Mosquito sting
Inhaled Ingested Touched
Mold or mildew Soy Fabrics
Dust Wheat Latex
Animal dander Nuts Metals
Plant Pollen Milk Detergents
Cigarette smoke Eggs Plants
Perfumes Chocolate
Air fresheners Food additives
Chlorine Medications

Sensitivity to allergens should not be ignored; continued exposure can result in increasingly serious allergy symptoms or allergic reactions.  In cases where a person is hypersensitive to an allergen (e.g. bee sting or severe peanut allergy), the speed of the allergic reaction can be dramatic, potentially life threatening without immediate treatment!

If you or a loved one are responding to allergens, or you have symptoms that might be allergy related, you should seek professional medical advice from an allergy specialist. If you live in the State of Virginia, consider contacting Richmond Allergy and Asthma Specialists at 1-804-285-7420, or schedule an appointment online. Our specialists are Board Certified/Eligible, they accept referrals from other medical professionals, and the practice does have a certified vaccine laboratory onsite.

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Allergy by an Allergist

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