Allergies are an immune response to outside substances entering our bodies. If they were invading objects like bacteria, viruses, or toxins, collectively considered “pathogens,” we would normally be happy with our immune system defending us from potential illness. When the object is a harmless pollen or mold spore, the body’s response intended to “defend” itself instead makes us miserable.
While suffering from allergies isn’t officially an illness, it can profoundly affect your quality of life. Constant sneezing, coughing, wheezing, nasal congestion, or watery eyes year-round can keep you from being your best self. There isn’t one, single way to suffer from allergies, though. As different as people can vary in terms of their laugh, their walk, or their hairstyle, allergic reactions come in all different combinations as well.
The cause of your allergic reaction is not an either-or between environmental or genetic, it’s how your genetic makeup reacts to environmental factors. But why do some people have worse allergies than others? The simple answer is that the immune system is a complex biological system responding to a moving target of variables and conditions.
Living in Your World
If you are genetically prone to having ragweed allergies but are never exposed to ragweed, then your allergies will never rear their nasty heads. Alternatively, if your immune system never experienced an allergic reaction to a mold spore while growing up in your hometown, it could then generate an allergic reaction to a different variety of mold spore after vacationing in a different part of the state.
But why is your body’s defense system treating harmless particles as if they were illness-causing invaders? It’s because your immune system is confused. There are millions of unique antibodies generated by the complex immune mechanisms that have to identify, signal, and/or attack all the numerous items that come in contact with our skin, eyes, nasal passages, mouth, airways, or gut. Your immune system is dynamically creating an immunological “fingerprint” for every new pathogen it encounters and “filing” it away in its memory banks. It’s no wonder that there is a lot of variation in how allergic reactions manifest themselves! If that were us organizing our local library, we’d probably mislabel a few books.
When the body feels it’s under attack, the immune system will use those books to fight off and heal the body. It does that by activating a variety of super-specialized chemicals, each with one single job to do. As an example, you’ve probably heard of proteins. But did you know that proteins are involved in removing invaders from your body? They don’t physically remove a substance or organism, but they are the first step in signaling that something is wrong. The proteins, an antibody called immunoglobulin E, physically bind to a potentially harmful pathogen and signal white blood cells to release chemicals that will begin the defense process. Histamine is one of these defense chemicals that a white blood cell will release. You’ve probably heard of histamine, but all histamine does is open up tissue for the attack cells to fight off the pathogens. This is what causes you swelling and inflammation.
Changes from Body to Body
Your body at any given moment could have less immunoglobulin E. The white blood cells could have fewer signal receptors available for the immunoglobulin E. The amount of histamine released could vary given that difference of fewer receptors. With as many cells and chemicals as your body will produce, there are so many factors with which your body has to find some balance. That’s why some people break out in hives to ragweed while others simple sniffle with nasal congestion.
Your body expresses allergies differently in the same way that each person’s fingerprint is unique. Adding in the environmental conditions of your infancy and youth—the manner in which your immune system has learned and adapted to the world around it—greatly affects how allergies will show themselves throughout the year.
Are you struggling with seasonal allergies? We’ve got plenty of options for you. Take back your sinuses (so you and your immune system can freely express yourselves) by scheduling an appointment with Dr. Pasha and his team. Follow us on Facebook and Pinterest for more updates!