The frequency of respiratory allergies has been increasing steadily in recent years in developed countries. More than 15% of people aged 15 to 50 are affected by this pathology. Air pollution remains one of the main causes of respiratory allergies. When spring comes along, pollen starts flying in the air, transported by the wind, to the great misfortune of allergic people.
Red and irritated eyes, runny nose, sneezing, itchy skin… allergy symptoms are many and unpleasant. But what exactly is a respiratory allergy? What causes it and what are the aggravating factors?
Respiratory allergy basics
Common allergies are thought to be caused by the overreaction of the body’s defence system, called the immune system, to certain substances in our environment. Pollens and dust mites are the most common allergens, triggering a majority of breathing difficulties. The most common type of respiratory allergy is "allergic rhinitis". It is an inflammation of the lining of the nasal cavity, which is a very sensitive area, with a high density of blood vessels. It is covered with ciliated cells and naturally produces a thick and sticky material.
Under normal circumstances, the immune system sends white blood cells to ingest and destroy germs that enter our body. But in an allergic individual, this defence mechanism will be overzealous and get triggered by otherwise harmless substances, known as allergens. In the case of allergic rhinitis, it reacts to various natural substances in the air that come into contact with the nasal mucosa. An excessive reaction will ensue, leading to the production of inflammatory substances such as histamine by our body. These substances cause excessive nasal secretions, followed by classic signs of allergy: sneezing bursts, runny nose, itchy palate or tongue...
However, in some severe cases, irritation can occur in the lining of the respiratory bronchi and lead to severe symptoms such as an asthma attack. Respiratory discomfort, also known as "dyspnoea", can only be relieved by medication.
What are the symptoms of a respiratory allergy?
Many signs indicate a respiratory allergy. The first is respiratory discomfort manifested by wheezing, tightness in the chest or a dry cough.
Allergic reactions are numerous and their signs depend entirely on their type and the subject's response:
- Rhinitis are manifested by inflammation of the nasal mucous membranes,
- Conjunctiva results in an inflammation of the conjunctiva of the eye that turns red,
- Asthma causes inflammation of the airways.
If you have any or all of these symptoms, you should consult an allergist. He only can identify the source of the allergy by performing skin tests. To completely cure these symptoms, desensitization of the allergenic agent will be prescribed. This type of treatment is more and more effective and very little side effects.
Aggravating factors of respiratory allergy
Air pollution and tobacco are among the worst aggravating factors of respiratory allergy. But there are plenty other factors that can aggravate an allergy. Allergies themselves tend to combine and add up, this is called "cross allergies".
In pollen or food there are several different proteins that are potentially allergenic. And it turns out that these proteins resemble one another a lot. A person allergic to a specific protein can therefore have an allergic react to a different substance if it possesses a similar protein.
Another aggravating factor of respiratory allergy caused by pollen is alcohol. Consuming alcohol dries out the mucous membranes, and can significantly worsen rhinitis and asthma.
Lastly, stress can also aggravate allergic symptoms. While it never directly causes allergies, it can aggravate them. And it does not take long: people suffering from allergy can see their symptoms intensify after a particularly stressful day.