JUL 09, 2017 03:22 PM PDT

Why am I always sneezin? Oh, allergy season!

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If you're suffering from pollen allergies or perhaps have a more severe allergy, you are not alone! Approximately 40% of the global population is estimated to have allergies, and that number continues to increase. But what even are allergies, chemically and anatomically speaking?

Turns out that allergies are a result of your lymphcytes, or white blood cells, overreacting to foreign antigens (be they peanut or pollen) and the subsequent production of too many antibodies, which sends your immune system into overdrive. While it's unclear why your immune system confuses allergens, which are really just antigenic proteins, not antigens, it is known that some allergens are more likely to trigger an allergy because of the way your immune system reacts to the proteins. That's why 90% of allergies are to just eight foods: tree nuts, eggs, soy, peanuts, shellfish, milk, and wheat.

But why do some allergies just result in sneezing and a runny nose while others could cause your throat to close up and stop your breathing? It all depends on the type of enzymes that are released to help fight the allergen "infection," aka the threat that your immune system senses. One enzyme, called histamine, causes symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, runny or congested nose, hives, or itching. Meanwhile, tryptase is the enzyme that can cause you to go into anaphylactic shock which can make it hard to breathe and potentially be fatal. That's why if you have a severe allergy, you should carry an epi-pen! To learn more about allergies, like if they're hereditary, watch the video!
About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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