What Are Allergies & Why Do We Get Them?

The 411 on Allergies

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, more than 50 million Americans including children suffer from allergies. Over 6 million school and work days are missed each year because of allergy symptoms. But what exactly are allergies and why do people suffer from them while others don’t? We sat down with Dr. Payal Patel, board-certified pediatric and adult allergy and immunology physician at ChicagoENT and asked her to give us the 411 on allergies.

What are Allergies?

“An allergy is triggered when the immune system overreacts to a foreign substance (allergy) that would be considered harmless to most people,” says Dr. Patel. When this occurs, our immune system begins to attack the substance by releasing antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE).  IgE then causes cells to release a chemical called histamine into the bloodstream to start a war against the allergen. As the battle commences, the body produces symptoms that can be mild to life-threatening.

Mild to Moderate Common Symptoms of Allergies Include:

  • Sneezing
  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Itchy throat and eyes
  • Wheezing
  • Allergens can also aggravate asthma symptoms causing an increase in coughing and wheezing.

Life-Threatening Symptoms Can Include:

  • Hoarseness
  • Tightness in the throat
  • Wheezing, or trouble breathing or swallowing
  • Hives
  • Swollen eyes, lips or tongue
  • Dizziness
  • Abdominal pain or diarrhea

Types of Allergens


  • Pollen- tiny particles that come from trees, weeds and grasses that are released into the air. Pollen allergies tend to be seasonal.
  • Mold- is a fungus that is commonly found outdoors and indoors. Mold produces tiny spores that are not visible to the human eye. Mold spores begin to reproduce when there is water or moisture.
  • Dust Mites-are microscopic insects that feed on the dead skin of humans and animals. Common household dust attributes to this year-round allergy. Dust mites live in bedding, upholstery, curtains and carpets.


  • Eggs-usually diagnosed in early childhood, most children with an egg allergy tend to outgrow this allergy however, it poses a great challenge for parents as eggs are a hidden ingredient in many foods.
  • Dairy-usually diagnosed in early childhood. This allergy stems from the milk protein that causes an abnormal immune system reaction.
  • Peanuts-a common allergy that is on the rise and is typically not outgrown. However, a new study suggests that feeding nut-based foods in early infancy can help children build a tolerance. For more information on this study, click here.
  • Fish and Shellfish-an allergy that is not typically outgrown. Fish and shellfish are not in the same family thus if you are allergic to one it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are allergic to the other.
  • Wheat-sometimes confused with celiac disease however people with wheat allergies can experience a life-threatening reaction.


“There are other allergens that can cause the body to have a reaction,” says Dr. Patel.

These include:

  • Infect bites and stings
  • Chemicals-beauty and household products
  • Medications-allergic reactions to antibiotics are the most common.

How Do I Know What I am Allergic To?

Through testing, an allergist can help you identify which allergen brings on your symptoms. An allergist can also help you determine which medications will work best for your set of triggers.

Chicago ENT is Chicago’s premier ear, nose, and throat advanced specialty center. Whether you have a simple ENT complaint, suffer from allergies or sinus infections, we can help. Our board-certified allergy and immunology physicians are experts in the diagnosis and management of allergies, asthma, and immune-deficiencies.  We offer comprehensive care to both children and adults suffering from all forms of allergies and breathing issues.

Chicago ENT board-certified physicians and specialists combine diagnoses and comprehensive treatments plans to provide you with relief from your allergy and asthma symptoms. In addition, we are the only ENT specialty center that lets you schedule your appointment whenever you want – even in the middle of the night – thanks to our 24/7 appointment desk. To schedule your appointment with one of our multi-disciplinary teams of allergy experts, please call us at 773.296.5500 or schedule online 24/7-click here!

Management and Treatment

Once you have been medically diagnosed and know the severity of your allergic reaction, it is important to properly manage your condition to avoid triggers or anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis is a serious and life-threatening allergic reaction that requires immediate medical treatment including the injection of a counter-acting drug known as epinephrine and a trip to the local hospital. Failure to properly treat anaphylaxis reactions can be fatal.

The most common anaphylactic reactions are to foods, insect stings and medications.

TAKE YOUR MEDICATIONS- If you suffer from airborne allergies, start taking allergy medications early. There are effective over-the-counter medications in the market however your physician can give you further guidance if those are ineffective.

AVOID AND BE READY-if you have severe allergic reactions to certain foods, insects and medications, be cautious, aware and read labels clearly.  Carry an EpiPen at all times and wear a medical alert bracelet!

ALLERGY SHOTS- The shots are not a cure, but over a period of time, your symptoms will get better and you may not have symptoms as often. Allergy shots are a form of treatment called immunotherapy. An allergy shot contains small amounts of a specific allergen that will trigger your allergies to stimulates your immune system — but not enough to cause a full-blown allergic reaction.

Over the course of time, your allergy specialist increases the dose of allergens in each of your allergy shots. This helps get your body used to the allergens and your immune system become desensitized to the allergens.