The Science Of Seasonal And Year-Round Allergies
Allergy – allergic rhinitis or hay fever – is an imbalance of the human immune system that causes a reaction to normally harmless substances called allergens. Some people who have this immune system imbalance react with symptoms such as sneezing, itch nose, runny nose, stuffy nose, itchy watery eyes, and nasal congestion (among others) when they are exposed to specific allergens such as pollen, pet dander (dog or cat hair), mold and other indoor and outdoor allergens, which your immune system sees as a ‘foreign invader’.
But other people don’t react to these substances. WHY IS THAT?
It’s All About The IgE – Immunoglobulin E Antibodies
The simple answer lies in understanding IgE (Immunoglobulin E), a type of protein produced in your body that acts as an allergen antibody. If you are allergic to a particular substance (an allergen), your immune system mistakenly believes this normally harmless substance is in fact harmful to your body, and it reacts with the symptoms people refer to as “having allergies”.
IgE allergen antibodies are first produced when you are initially exposed to specific allergens in an attempt to protect you. These IgE antibodies remain in your system for life, and the next time you are exposed to that specific allergen, an allergic reaction may occur. Unfortunately, many people have an immune system imbalance which causes them to produce more IgE than needed for a health functioning immune system. We call this “IgE Over-Production”.
The difference between people who are ‘allergic’ to, for example ragweed pollen, and people who can be exposed to ragweed pollen and not have an allergic reaction is the level of IgE in your body. People with allergies tend to over-produce IgE and have an increased level of IgE in their blood. It is this over-production of IgE that is responsible for the onset of allergy symptoms. This immune system mix-up, or disorder is called “atopy”, and seasonal and year-round allergies (as well as other conditions) are called ‘atopic disorders’. Learn more about IgE and the Atopic Pathway here.
There are many different variations of the IgE allergy antibody – each one specific to a different allergen. If your body over-produces the IgE antibody to the allergen cat dander, for example, it will only trigger an allergic reaction when you are exposed to cats.
How IgE Leads To Allergic Reactions
Your immune system is meant to protect your body from foreign invading substances – usually those that could be harmful to you, such as bacteria or viruses. An important part of your immune system are cells known as mast cells and basophils. Mast cells and basophils are found throughout the body, and they contain different chemicals, including histamine, which cause inflammation. An inflammatory response is part of how your body reacts to protect itself from dangerous foreign substances.
In the case of seasonal and year-round allergies, your immune system mistakes harmless allergens as potentially dangerous, and triggers an inflammatory response. The allergens, plus the specific IgE for that allergen, cause mast cells and basophils to release histamine into your system, and voilà, you develop allergy symptoms.
The level of IgE in your body is directly related to the likelihood of mast cells releasing histamine when you are exposed to specific allergens.
Over-producing IgE is in fact a simple imbalance in the immune system that causes a discomforting response, when in fact a normal healthy reaction to exposure to harmless allergens is “no allergic response at all.”
Regulating the over-production of IgE can help restore a normal response to both seasonal and year-round allergens.
Common Plant Allergens
Plants commonly responsible for allergic rhinitis (hay fever) include:
- Pine trees
- Birch trees
- Alder trees
- Cedar trees
- Hazel trees
- Horse Chestnut trees
- Poplar trees
- Olive trees
- Rye grass
- Timothy grass
- Plantain weed
- Nettle weed
- Mugwort weed
- Sorrel weed