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Allergies: a Growing Concern

The incidence and prevalence of allergic disorders have increased dramatically in the last few decades, apparently without any specific plausible reason. It is possible that this sudden rise in allergies might result from a combination of multiple factors, including genetic, biologic, and environmental and lifestyle factors.


Regardless of why this trend is occurring, allergic disorders have become a serious public health issue as well as a serious personal health issue, in both developed and developing countries. That's why it is paramount that people know how to prevent and manage them, as well as it is important that allergic patients have proper health insurance coverage.


Allergy and immune system

An allergy is an abnormal immune system response to certain substances (called allergens) that normally do not bother other people. It results from a hypersensitivity to otherwise harmless environmental agents such as pollen, dust mites, mold, pet dander, food, medications or insect stings. Before developing a full blown allergic state, predisposed individuals undergo sensitization, a process whereby, on first exposure, a specific allergen causes no or little reaction, while the immune system becomes sensitive to it and starts producing specific antibodies (IgE antibodies) against the allergen. Subsequent exposures to the same allergen, however, cause full blown allergic reactions mediated by IgE antibodies, as well as by other vasoactive substances (such as histamine) that are released during the allergic reaction.


Allergy and symptoms

Allergic symptoms can vary from mild (rash and itchy, watery eyes), to mild (itchiness, difficulty breathing), to severe and life-threatening, such as anaphylaxis that requires immediate emergency medical attention.


Of course, the best and most effective treatment for allergy is to remove or avoid offending allergens. But this is not always possible or feasible. Many people are allergic to more than one substance. In addition it is not always easy to identify the specific allergen that causes the allergic reaction.


Simple but effective measures to prevent allergic reactions to environmental agents include: removing dust and pet hairs from floors, furniture and carpets; wearing a mask in the pollen season; avoiding the specific food or drug that triggers the allergic reaction. In many cases these simple measures are enough to prevent the occurrence of allergic symptoms. But they are not infallible. Allergens can be found everywhere and people are often not aware of being exposed to them, so they can develop allergic symptoms in spite of taking all precautions mentioned above. 

Prevention and relief of symptoms*

Fortunately there are several medications available (such as antihistamines, decongestants and leukotriene inhibitors) that can relieve the symptoms of allergy, at least of the mild or moderate forms of the condition. However it is important to stress that these medications don't cure allergy, but they just relieve the symptoms.

Prevention by vaccination is possible as well. Allergy vaccines are based on controlled doses of purified allergens, extracted from their natural sources (pollen, dust mites, pet dander, etc). During the treatment, the patient's immune system becomes gradually desensitized to the allergens that trigger allergic symptoms. Allergy vaccination is an effective but time consuming treatment, that requires a great effort from both the patient and the medical staff. That's why it is not commonly used as preventive and curative treatment of allergy.


In summary allergies are common disorders that can be easily self-managed, but can also cause mild or moderate bothersome symptoms (requiring medications for relief) and sometimes can lead to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition that demands immediate medical help. For these reasons allergic patients should benefit from having health insurance coverage.


If you wish to have further information about international medical insurance  or a  free quote, please do not hesitate to contact one of our highly trained advisors.

*Always seek professional medical advise from a qualified doctor before undergoing any treatment.