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Understanding Allergies & Intolerances – Common Triggers & Treatment Options

People can experience allergies and intolerances after consuming or being exposed to certain substances. Both can be uncomfortable and cause distress, but they are different in terms of their severity and underlying mechanisms. Allergies occur when your immune system reacts excessively to harmless substances, like pollen, pet hair, or certain foods. When the immune system perceives a meaning to be a threat, histamine is released along with other chemicals. This causes inflammation, itchiness, sneezing, and other symptoms. Allergies can cause:

  • Runny or stuffy nasal discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy, watery eye
  • Hives or rashes
  • Lips, tongue, or throat swelling
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening, severe reaction.

In contrast, intolerances are non-immune responses when the digestive system has trouble digesting certain substances such as gluten, lactose, or food additives. Like allergies, intolerances don’t involve the immune system or cause anaphylaxis. Symptoms of intolerances are:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Pain or cramps in the abdomen
  • Bloating
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue

Common triggers for allergies and intolerances are:

  • Pollen, dust mites, and other environmental allergens
  • Certain foods such as peanuts and tree nuts, milk, soya, wheat, shellfish, fish, and eggs
  • Bites or stings by insects
  • Medications like aspirin, antibiotics, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

The severity and type of reaction determine the treatment options. Treatment options for allergies and intolerances include:


Antihistamines can relieve mild to moderate allergy symptoms by blocking histamine receptors. Histamine, a chemical released by immune cells when encountering an allergen, is responsible for many symptoms, including itching, sneezing, and runny nasal passages. This can reduce or even prevent the symptoms. Antihistamines come in two types: first-generation and second-generation. Diphenhydramine, a first-generation antihistamine, can cause drowsiness and other side effects. However, they are more effective in relieving certain symptoms, such as itching. Second-generation antihistamines such as cetirizine and loratadine, also known as Zyrtec and Claritin, are less likely than first-generation ones to cause drowsiness. They may be more suitable for long-term usage.


(Adrenaline), which is used for treating anaphylaxis and other life-threatening reactions. Anaphylaxis, or a severe allergic response, can cause swelling, hives, and difficulty breathing.  Epinephrine constricts blood vessels and opens airways to help reverse anaphylaxis symptoms and prevent further complications. Epinephrine is usually injected into the thigh muscle and should be administered immediately after anaphylaxis symptoms appear. People at risk of developing anaphylaxis should always carry an epinephrine auto-injector and know how to use it.

Avoiding triggers

You can avoid certain allergens, such as food or the environment, by reading labels, wearing protective clothes, and using air purifiers and other devices. Someone with a peanut allergy may have to avoid eating foods that contain or are processed at facilities that process peanuts. Wearing protective clothing and using air purifiers or other devices can reduce exposure to environmental allergens such as dust mites or animal dander. Wearing a mask and avoiding outdoor activities on days with high pollen counts may help people with pollen allergies. Working with a health professional is important to identify allergies and intolerances triggers and develop a management plan. Immunotherapy or allergy injections may be prescribed to reduce sensitivity to allergens.

Immunotherapy (desensitization)

This involves gradually exposing the body’s immune system to increasing doses of allergens over time to reduce the severity. Immunotherapy aims to train the body’s immune system to be less sensitive to allergens, reducing symptoms and future reactions. Immunotherapy is usually a series of injections over months or years, depending on how the patient responds. The injections are small doses of the allergen, which start at a low level and increase over time. The goal is to achieve a maintenance dosage, an exposure level that reduces symptoms without causing severe reactions. Immunotherapy can treat allergies caused by airborne allergens such as dust mites or animal dander. It may also help with food allergies and insect allergies. Some people may find it an effective option, but risks include the possibility of anaphylaxis.

Elimination diets

This involves removing certain food from the diet to identify and avoid triggers for intolerances. An elimination diet aims to determine which foods cause symptoms and eliminate them from your diet. This can reduce or eliminate symptoms.

Probiotics, probiotic supplements, and other supplements

Research is limited, but it may improve digestion and reduce intolerance symptoms. Probiotics, which are live microorganisms, are found in yogurt, kefir, and other foods. They can also be taken orally. Research suggests that probiotics can improve digestion and reduce the symptoms of intolerances such as lactose or IBS by encouraging good gut bacteria growth. The research on probiotics, however, is limited, and some studies have yet to show any significant benefits. You can also use other supplements to improve digestion and reduce intolerance symptoms, like digestive enzymes. Digestive enzymes help break down proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. They may be helpful for those with deficiencies. Betaine hydrochloride can increase stomach acid, improving digestion and nutrient absorption.

Consult a medical professional if you suspect you may have an allergy. They can diagnose and provide treatment options. They may suggest allergy tests such as blood or skin tests to identify triggers. These doctors are concerned about developing an appropriate treatment plan for allergies and intolerances. They can diagnose the condition and offer guidance on management and treatment options.


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