They add that in acute cases, the absence of management could even lead to death.
Allergies are more common than we can imagine. However, the ubiquitous condition is not treated with the seriousness it deserves, says doctors. Dr K Thiruppathi, a citybased pulmonologist, says, “Those suffering from these allergies—be it dust or moulds—are aware of it. However, from not following medication to not seeking treatment at all, allergies are the most underdiagnosed and undertreated conditions.” He adds that genetic factors play a major role in allergies.
He explains that when the body senses a foreign substance, called antigen, the immune system is triggered. It normally protects the body from bacteria and toxins. Its overreaction to a harmless substance (an allergen) is called a hypersensitivity reaction, or an allergic reaction.
He adds, “An antibody known as immunoglobulin gamma E (IgE) causes allergic reactions by attacking substances that are foreign. When IgE attacks, it causes special cells known as mast cells to release chemicals that irritate people with allergies.” Mast cells are found in large quantities in places like the nose, eyes, lungs, stomach, and intestines. As mast cells release irritating chemicals, the tissues swell and lead to other symptoms of inflammation and allergies.
Dr R Sundararaman, Internal Medicine Specialist, says exposure to dust at a young age can prevent onset of asthma. He says, “That is why the incidence of childhood asthma is lower in India when compared to the Western countries.”
Effects of not getting treated
Dr Thiruppathi says that when those with allergy ignore the medication, which is mostly corticosteroids, there are several effects- immediate and long term. “Symptoms like chest tightening will continue in some cases, while for others it could cause a remodelling of airway epithelium. Once that happens, the medication may fail to have any impact. In some of the cases, lack of management can even lead to death,” he says.
Food allergies, a grey area While the incidence of allergy to peanuts is higher in the Western countries, it is relatively rare in India, says Dr Sundararaman. “That could also be because children are fed peanut from a young age,” he explains. On the other hand, allergies to eggs, milk, soy, shell fish and other forms of sea foods are common, he points out.
“I have seen patients taking these allergies extremely lightly. Despite warnings, they continue to consume sea food items till they develop a severe reaction in the form of swelling of lymph nodes and have to be administered intravenous adrenaline.”
However, he adds that food allergy is a grey area in India. “We might have people who are allergic to everything from turmeric to different types of pulses."
Test for allergies
We never know the scale of the allergy till we do a test injecting several allergens in the forearm.
Many will not come forward for such a test and the other method known as radioimmunoassay, a sensitive method for measuring very small amounts of a substance in the blood doesn’t find many takers among experts,” he says.
Allergy is an exaggerated response of the immune system, often to common substances such as food or pollen.
The immune system is a complex system that normally defends the body against foreign invaders, such as bacteria and viruses, while also surveying for abnormal changes in an individual’s own cells, such as cancer.
Allergens are substances that are foreign to the body and that cause an allergic reaction.
Although many individuals outgrow allergies over time, it can develop at any age, including adulthood.