It can be difficult at times to differentiate between symptoms created by an allergy and immune responses created by an illness.
For example, allergic reactions like sneezing, a runny nose, and a sore throat may mimic the early signs of a cold or even coronavirus, as of late. Allergies will continue to manifest as long as you are exposed to the allergen.
Chronic allergies that are left untreated can weaken your immune system and increase risks like contagious viruses and germs. Uncontrolled allergies can evolve into an ear, sinus, or upper respiratory infection.
Allergic asthma or chronic allergies can also increase the risk of complications during an illness. For example, allergic asthma can cause the airways to be more sensitive to bacterial or viral triggers.
Allergy symptoms can also disturb a good night’s sleep, which can also affect the immune system and make you more susceptible to infections.
Are Allergies a Sign of a Weak Immune System?
Allergies are an immune response to an allergen/antigen. An allergic reaction does not indicate that the system is weak, but rather overly sensitive.
The body sends individual cells to destroy a supposed intruder when antigens appear. Antigens may be pieces of protein, bacteria, or cells, and many antigens are friendly.
For example, healthy gut bacteria are an example of a robust antigen, while pathogenic bacteria are foreign. The immune system must determine which antigens to remove from your system, but it is not a perfect system, and it may respond negatively to a harmless antigen.
An allergic reaction may create symptoms that look like an infection or sickness. Allergies do not usually cause a fever.
Types of Allergies
There are many different types of allergies and hypersensitivities. Some allergic responses are life-threatening, but this is rare. There are four types of allergies.
Type I allergies, such as hay fever, create the most common allergic reactions and can be treated with over-the-counter antihistamines.
Symptoms, such as a runny nose, itching, and hives, may occur in response to antigens when the body can’t determine if something is foreign or friendly.
Allergic asthma is a type I hypersensitivity that occurs when one inhales a specific allergen. Vasculitis is an extreme reaction to a drug or foreign substance that triggers inflammation of the small blood vessels.
Type I hypersensitivity may cause an immediate, anaphylactic-type reaction caused by a food allergy, drugs, pollen, or insect bites. Anaphylactic reactions require urgent medical care and may involve rash and itching, swelling of the throat and mouth that closes the airways, difficulty speaking, swallowing, breathing, weakness, and unconsciousness due to a drop in blood pressure.
Type II allergic responses involve specific antibodies known as immunoglobulin G (IgG) and IgM.
This immune response binds to and destroys the cell that the antibody is bound. This type of reaction is sometimes experienced after an organ transplant if the body refuses to accept it.
Type III is a complex immune reaction that binds the antibody and an antigen and creates physical responses that destroy the local tissues.
Examples of type III hypersensitivity include systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus, SLE) and glomerulonephritis.
Type IV reactions are caused by specialized immune cells called T-cell lymphocytes. The T cells take hours or days to build into an allergic reaction. Examples of type IV include poison ivy and rashes.
Can You Build Immunities to Allergies?
An allergen triggers a series of physical responses. The first time an individual is exposed to an allergen, such as dust or pollen, the body produces antibodies known as IgE.
The IgE antibody seeks to destroy the allergen by triggering a chemical called histamine into the bloodstream, which causes itching, inflammation, tightening of the airways, increased secretions, and other allergic responses. Anti-inflammatories dampen the body’s response.
A skilled allergist would offer a range of treatment options, including allergy shots and immunotherapy, to reduce the symptoms and build immunities against allergic diseases like asthma attacks and contact dermatitis.
Allergy shots are a treatment option for patients experiencing insect allergies, eye allergies, and allergic rhinitis.
Allergy shots decrease sensitivity to a specific allergen and provide lasting improvements. Patients over the age of five who do not have severe medical conditions may be eligible for allergy shot treatments. Allergy shots do not treat food allergies.
The treatments are completed once or twice a week for three to six months. During a maintenance phase, the shots are decreased to once every two to four weeks. Patients typically continue the schedule for up to three to five years. The shots act like a vaccine and gradually increase the patient’s tolerance to the allergen.
Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) or allergy drops is an alternate treatment to allergy shots.
The therapy addresses specific allergies, such as dust mites, northern grasses, and ragweed. The FDA has approved immunotherapy for a small number of particular allergy types. The FDA has not approved SLIT for food allergies at this time, but the FDA may authorize allergy drops for food allergies in the future.
The drops or tablets increase tolerance to specific allergens and decrease allergic responses. Some studies have shown that the effects of SLIT are not as powerful as allergy shots, but it is a good option for patients who are afraid of needles or who desire a less invasive option.
Six Steps to Strengthen Your Immune System
Let’s say you suffer from hypersensitivities or constant allergies, like hay fever, eczema, hives, food allergies, or seasonal allergies. Kathryn Edwards, MD, a top-rated allergy doctor in Princeton, NJ, recommends the following steps to strengthen your immune system.
Step 1: Practice Good Hygiene
Wash your hands throughout the day, and avoid touching your face, eyes, nose, and mouth. It is especially crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic to practice good Hygiene. Wash your hands frequently and wear a face mask.
Step 2: Get Plenty of Sleep
Getting a full night of sleep will boost your immune system and help to keep stress levels down.
Step 3: Avoid Contact with Contagious or Sick People
Social distance, and do not touch objects that others have used. Do not share utensils, beverages, etc.
Step 4: Regularly Clean
Wipe the counters or surfaces that others touch in your work area and at home. Clean the toilets and sinks with soap or detergent to kill any germs that are lingering on the surface.
Step 5: Vaccinations
Ask your doctor about vaccinations against infections or diseases when they become available.
Step 6: Control Your Allergies
See an allergist and have your allergies properly diagnosed and treated. An allergist will help you find a medication or treatment to manage your allergies, improve your condition, and possibly eliminate the allergic reactions.