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The Connection Between Immune Health and Allergies

Woman sneezing into a tissue

Allergies are a common health concern for millions of people worldwide. They occur when your immune system mistakenly identifies a harmless substance as a threat, which triggers an immune response. This reaction can lead to a range of symptoms, including sneezing, itching, congestion and even anaphylaxis.1 Understanding the connection between immune health and allergies is and one way to promote overall well-being. 


The Role of the Immune System

The immune system is responsible for defending the body against pathogens. It plays a critical role in distinguishing between dangerous invaders and harmless substances. However, in the case of allergies, the immune system overreacts to allergic substances, such as pollen, dust mites, pet dander or certain foods. This exaggerated response causes your body to release various chemicals, including histamine, which can cause the characteristic allergy symptoms.2


The Immune System and Allergic Reactions

Your immune system is made of a complex network of cells and organs that work together to recognize and eliminate potential threats. However, in the case of allergies, your immune system reacts to harmless substances, such as pollen, dust or certain foods, triggering an allergic reaction.1,2

When an allergic individual encounters an allergen, their immune system overreacts and produces antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies act as a radar for specific allergens, like pollen or pet dander. IgE antibodies bind to mast cells found in the nose, lungs, skin and digestive system, causing your symptoms.3


Histamines and Allergic Reactions

When the IgE antibodies on mast cells encounter an allergen, they trigger the release of histamines. Histamines are chemicals that play a vital role in your immune system’s reaction to allergens. They cause your blood vessels to dilate, leading to increased blood flow to the affected area. Histamines also make it easier for blood to flow through your pores, allowing immune cells to reach the site of the allergen exposure more quickly.4

The release of histamines leads to the classic symptoms of allergies, such as sneezing, itching, a runny nose, watery or itchy eyes and skin rashes. These symptoms are the body's way of trying to remove or neutralize the allergen. However, in some cases, the immune response can be excessive and lead to more severe allergic reactions.4


How to Reduce Your Exposure to Allergens

One effective way to manage allergies is by minimizing your exposure to allergens. For example, keeping indoor environments clean and free of dust mites, regularly washing bedding in hot water and using allergen-proof covers for pillows and mattresses can significantly reduce the number of allergens in your home. In addition, avoiding outdoor activities during high pollen seasons and keeping windows closed can help lessen the impact of airborne allergens.6


Consider Preventative Treatment

In some cases, allergies can be severe and difficult to manage with lifestyle modifications alone. If that’s the case, you may need to consider immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is a preventative treatment that involves exposing the immune system to gradually increasing amounts of allergens over time, allowing the body to build a tolerance and reduce allergic reactions. This can be achieved through regular allergy shots or sublingual immunotherapy (under-the-tongue tablets or drops). It’s important to consult an allergist to determine if immunotherapy is suitable for you.6


Consult an Allergist

If allergies are significantly impacting your daily life or if symptoms are severe, you may need to seek out an allergist—a specialized doctor who diagnoses and treats allergies. From there, your allergist can provide valuable insights into your allergies and develop a personalized plan. They can perform tests to identify specific allergens and recommend appropriate treatment options based on your individual needs.6

Understanding the connection between immune health and allergies can help you manage allergies. By taking the steps above, you can support your immune system and help reduce the impact of allergies on your daily life.

Source Citations:

  1. Allergies and the Immune System. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Accessed 11/6/23.
  2. Allergies - Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. Accessed 11/6/23.
  3. Allergic Reaction. AAAAI. Accessed 11/6/23.
  4. What Is Histamine? Cleveland Clinic. Accessed 11/6/23.
  5. How to boost your immune system. Harvard Health. Accessed 11/6/23.
  6. Allergies - Diagnosis and treatment. Mayo Clinic. Accessed 11/6/23.