Allergy causes

A hypersensitive immune system can give rise to an allergy. According to the European Centre for Allergy Research Foundation there are around 13 million allergy sufferers in Germany. Most people suffer from a pollen allergy which can manifest in the form of hay fever. However, other allergens can also cause allergy symptoms. For example, there are food allergies to nuts and celery or allergies to house dust. These allergies are included in the same allergy category as hay fever: type I. A type I allergy is the most common form of allergy and is characterised by the fact that people react to the corresponding allergens within an extremely short time.

How an allergy develops is still not fully understood. However, it is clear that the immune system reacts to a harmless substance by activating the defence system. Various cells of the immune system, such as lymphocytes and mast cells, are involved in the allergic process. According to the hygiene hypothesis, the immune system reacts so severely due to the fact that it was not properly trained in childhood. Improved food hygiene, the modern way of life and drugs such as antibiotics ensure that children today rarely come into contact with bacteria, parasites or viruses.

However, gut flora also play a role. On the one hand, the intestinal mucosa forms a barrier between the outside world and the inside of the body. If the intestinal mucosa cannot perform this barrier function due to inflammatory processes or bowel disease, undesirable substances pass through the leaky gut into the blood stream. If the intestinal mucosa has holes, this is referred to as leaky gut syndrome. Present allergies can worsen or new allergies can develop due to this. On the other hand, if the composition of the gut flora is not right more histamine is produced.

Histamines promote allergic responses. Histamines from the diet also have this effect with the result that allergy sufferers should avoid foods containing histamine such as salami, red wine, sauerkraut, cheeses that have matured for a long time, mould cheese and tuna fish.

However, the response of the immune system is influenced not only by the gut, but also the psyche. Stress and other psychological factors may trigger or worsen allergic symptoms if there is an allergic Disposition.

Allergy symptoms

With allergies, the body produces antibodies to the allergen. For a pollen allergy sufferer this is, for example, the pollen from hazel, birch, mugwort, rye, dock or ragweed. Allergies to grass are also prevalent. If the allergen gets into the body, the antibodies initiate an immune reaction that results in the typical symptoms. For hay fever these include symptoms such as:

  • Attacks of sneezing
  • Watery and burning eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Rash
  • Cough
  • Scratchy throat

Allergic asthma can develop in conjunction with hay fever. Allergic asthma is the most common form of bronchial asthma and is accompanied by bronchoconstriction. The mucous membrane of the bronchial tubes swells and the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract produce thick mucous. Attacks of coughing, breathlessness and a feeling of tightness in the chest are typical symptoms of allergic asthma.

Anaphylactic shock is one of the most severe allergic reactions. This can occur in case of a severe allergy to animal venoms (bees) as well as to foods and drugs and is life-threatening.

Allergy diagnosis and allergy test

If you suspect that you are suffering from an allergy you should consult a doctor for a diagnosis. Doctors who have specialised in such cases are called allergists. Frequently, dermatologists, ear nose and throat doctors and pulmonary specialists have undergone further training to become an allergist. They most commonly perform a skin prick test for diagnosis. Hypersensitivity reactions can be identified rapidly with this skin test.

Advice for the allergy season

Allergy sufferers often suffer severely with the bothersome symptoms of allergy, especially in the pollen season. By using a pollen calendar, sufferers can adapt to the airborne pollen grains and can take preventive measures accordingly. The German Meteorological Service (DWD) provides a hazard index for the pollen forecast on its website which shows the expected pollen count in Germany. The pollen count fluctuates heavily depending on the weather and regional differences in plant development so the information is updated on a daily basis. The pollen information service, which measures the current pollen count at 45 locations in Germany, provides valuable information on the forecast.

If the allergy has hit, you have a runny nose and watery eyes, it is too late to go to the doctor for allergen immunotherapy. This should be carried out in the autumn and winter months which are low in allergens. Various home remedies can ease the symptoms. A steam bath with saline or nasal rinsing with saline moisten the nasal mucosa, ease the itching and wash the pollen out. Peppermint or eucalyptus essential oils have an expectorant effect and help you breathe more easily. Furthermore, a variety of preparations is available that can reduce allergy symptoms.

If you are an allergy sufferer or are interested in allergies, you can discover more on this topic on our service and info pages.