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Allergies, like us, come in all shapes and sizes. They happen when your immune system reacts to a foreign substance that’s harmless to most people…but your body doesn’t see it that way. When you encounter the offending substance, your immune system kicks into overdrive, trying to protect you from something it perceives to be a threat. This reaction can cause swelling and inflammation where you really don’t want it, like your skin, sinuses, and digestive system. Everyone’s heard of seasonal allergies, but—fun fact—there are more than 10 different categories of allergies that can affect different parts of your body, and an estimated 50 million people in the U.S. suffer from one or more of them. The most commonly diagnosed allergic conditions include those to pets, insect stings, foods (especially nuts, shellfish, soy, milk, eggs, and wheat—including gluten!), and mold, though you can potentially be allergic to anything, including medications you might need to control a condition. (Allergies—they really know how to be inconvenient, don’t they?) Sometimes allergy symptoms are pretty obvious, like when you break out in hives after using a new moisturizer. Other times—say, when your eyes and throat are scratchy—it can be difficult to determine what’s triggering your symptoms. That’s when a visit to a practitioner who specializes in allergies can help. Unfortunately, there’s no single test or procedure that can provide a comprehensive diagnosis. Instead, your practitioner will rely on a combination of factors, including your medical and personal history, a detailed symptom diary, and one or more allergy tests. Allergy tests include the skin prick test, patch test, blood test (Specific IgE), and challenge test. It’s important to know that allergy tests don’t always indicate the severity of an allergy, but that information is critical for your life. An allergic reaction can be mild, or it can be severe—as in full-blown anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction. People with severe allergies should carry a rescue medication (like an EpiPen) at all times. And if you are having an allergic reaction and are having trouble breathing or feel like your lips, tongue, or throat is swelling, seek emergency care ASAP. To treat allergies, you need to come at them from all sides. You can start by avoiding the allergen as much as possible. But let’s be real, giving up your rescue kitten is a lot harder than giving up, say, your morning bagel or eggs (though if that’s your fave breakfast, that might be hard too!). If avoidance isn’t a realistic option, then there are other steps you can take. Unfortunately, there’s no cure for allergies, but if you need to relieve the symptoms it may help to turn to a combination of over-the-counter and prescription meds, such as eye drops and antihistamines. If you want to take on allergies proactively (versus avoiding allergens and dealing with reactions as needed), you may also want to try allergy shots, a type of immunotherapy that works by exposing you to low doses of the offending allergen. If you’re interested in immunotherapy or just want to swap allergy war stories, talk to your WanaFam about their experiences. That’s what we’re here for!

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Books about Allergies


An Epidemic of Absence: A New Way of Understanding Allergies and Autoimmune Diseases

A brilliant, groundbreaking report on the dramatic rise of allergic and autoimmune disease, and the controversial therapies scientists are developing to correct these disorders. From asthma to Crohn’s disease, everyone knows someone who suffers from an allergic or autoimmune disorder. And if it appears that the prevalence of these maladies has increased recently, that’s because it has—to levels never before seen in human history. These days no fewer than one in five—and likely more—Americans suffers from one of these ailments. We seem newly, and bafflingly, vulnerable to immune system malfunction. Why? One possibility is that we have systematically cleaned ourselves to illness; this belief challenges deeply entrenched notions about the value of societal hygiene and the harmful nature of microbes. Yet scientists investigating the rampant immune dysfunction in the developed world have inevitably arrived at this conclusion. To address this global “epidemic of absence,” they must restore the human ecosystem. This groundbreaking book explores the promising but controversial “worm therapy”—deliberate infection with parasitic worms—in development to treat autoimmune disease. It explains why farmers’ children so rarely get hay fever, why allergy is less prevalent in former Eastern Bloc countries, and how one cancer-causing bacterium may be good for us. It probes the link between autism and a dysfunctional immune system. It investigates the newly apparent fetal origins of allergic disease—that a mother’s inflammatory response imprints on her unborn child, tipping the scales toward allergy. An Epidemic of Absence is a brilliant, cutting-edge exploration of the dramatic rise of allergic and autoimmune diseases and the controversial, potentially groundbreaking therapies that scientists are developing to correct these disorders.

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