The 7 Types of Allergies and What to Know About Them

Woman struggling with allergy. Itchy eyes and sneezing

Ahhh…beautiful spring arrives with all of the flowers and trees blooming. And you get a stuffy nose and start sneezing. The odds are you suffer from allergies. But are you aware there are several types of allergies?

In anticipation of May’s National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month, take some time to learn what allergies are and the different types.

What are allergies?

Simply put, an allergy is when the body overreacts to a substance, treating it as harmful. Allergies are one of the most common chronic conditions humans have. The body produces an antibody (immunoglobulin E, abbreviated IgE) to fight the substances.

How many types of allergies are there?

There are seven different types of allergens, or things that cause allergies.

  1. Pollen: One of the most common types, these allergies are seasonal and are often referred to as “hay fever.” In the U.S., the pollen seasons break down into trees (usually January through May), grasses (April through June), and weeds (August through November).
  1. Food: More than 32 million Americans have a food allergy, which can start at any age. There is no cure for this allergen. Most common food allergies are due to eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, sesame, fish, or shellfish. It’s important to remember that a food allergy is different from a food intolerance; a food intolerance does not involve the immune system.
  1. Drug: Most people experience an adverse reaction to a drug or medicine, not an allergy. True allergies are rare and always involve the immune system and the body’s deployment of IgEs. Allergy tests for medicines are limited, although one of the most reliable tests is for an allergy to penicillin. If you suspect you may have a drug allergy, stop taking it and speak with your doctor immediately.
  1. Insects: Bugs that sting, bite, or just annoy can cause mild to severe allergic reactions. Bees, wasps, and fire ants are examples of stinging insects; when they sting, they inject toxic venom. Most people recover from the venom in a few days, but for some, it can be deadly. Biting insects include fleas, bedbugs, and mosquitos. These rarely cause a life-threatening situation, although the area will swell, itch, and get red. Cockroaches and dust mites don’t sting or bite, but their bodies and waste can create allergic reactions.
  1. Mold: Mold can be found indoors or outdoors and develops in damp environments. Fungi produce spores which float in the air, causing allergies; not all molds create reactions. The most active time for these allergies is July to early fall, although, since mold can exist indoors, allergies can occur year-round. Mildew is one kind of mold. The other four types that typically trigger reactions are Alternaria, Aspergillus, Cladosporium, Penicillium. For more general information about mold, visit the EPA’s website here.
  1. Latex: Many products we use contain latex, such as balloons, medical gloves and bandages, foam mattresses, and pencil erasers. Latex is made from the sap of a rubber tree that is grown in Southeast Asia and Africa. People who are allergic have a reaction when coming into contact with it, whether breathing it or touching it. Some fruits and vegetables, like carrots, strawberries, spinach, and mangos, have proteins similar to the sap tree and can also cause allergic reactions.
  1. Pets: Poor Rover – he may be causing your allergies in between the sloppy kisses. Up to 20% of the world’s population has a pet allergy, and about 70% of Americans have a pet. Fur allergies to cats and dogs are the most common, although people can be allergic to the fur of hamsters, rabbits, and horses, as well as feathers. Technically, a pet allergy is not a reaction to fur or feathers but to the dander that gets caught in them; urine and saliva also contribute to reactions.

If you have allergies, you’ve probably gotten used to them and may even know what remedies help. Still, knowing the types of allergies that are out there can help you adjust your lifestyle to ensure even easier breathing.

Sources: Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America; EPA.

Categories: Senior Health