More than 50 million Americans report having allergic reactions every year, according to data from the CDC. Allergies are regarded as the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S., and cost more than $18 billion.
In scientific terms, an allergic reaction occurs when the body’s immune system overreacts to a normally harmless substance, such as peanuts or cat dander. White blood cells that defend our body from foreign invaders go into overdrive when they encounter a type of antibody known as Immunoglobulin E (IgE). The result is an extreme inflammatory response that might include difficulty breathing, vomiting, itchy eyes or ears, or a rash. If the allergic reaction is severe enough, a person can go into what’s called anaphylaxis, where the allergic reaction happens in a matter of seconds or minutes. When this happens, the immune system floods a body with chemicals that cause blood pressure to drop and airways to close up. In other words, your body goes into shock that can result in death if the symptoms aren’t treated immediately.
Excerpted from Newsweek