Sun, semen and cold: 11 questions about allergies

ALLERGY ARISES WHEN THE IMMUNE SYSTEM produces antibodies – molecules that attack a specific substance, an allergen, as dangerous. It is believed that allergic conditions occur in about a quarter of people, and they can manifest themselves in very different ways. The mechanisms of allergy development have been studied well, but it has not yet been possible to understand why it occurs at all.   

Can allergies be cured?

Today, the only effective treatment (other than avoiding the allergen itself) is allergen-specific immunotherapy (ASIT) . The patient is given a small amount of the allergen regularly – usually once a month – by injection or under the tongue. The goal is to explain to the body that specific proteins are not dangerous. Unfortunately, such explanatory lessons can last for several years, be expensive, and doctors are not ready to give a guarantee that the method will work.  

According to the World Allergy Organization, immunotherapy is effective primarily for seasonal allergies, manifested by runny nose and eye inflammation, allergic asthma and year-round allergy to house dust. And for people with pronounced reactions to the poison of wasps or bees, it can save lives. In the treatment of pollen allergy with such injections, the results were good , and the process proceeded without pronounced undesirable effects. With asthma, such therapy also helps , but severe acute reactions are possible – therefore, you cannot go home immediately after the injection, you need to be under the supervision of a doctor for at least half an hour.    

Although injections are used more frequently, a meta – analysis of sixty studies reports that sublingual allergen ingestion has helped with reactions to pollen, animal pollen and mold. At the very least, it reduced the risk of complications – for example, bronchial asthma. However, in the case of fruit allergy, the effectiveness has not yet been proven (possibly due to a lack of good research). In any case, the decision to join the long journey of ASIT should be made together with a doctor.      

Is there a cold allergy

If your eyes are watery and swollen and run from your nose, do not rush to diagnose yourself with a cold allergy – there is a chance that this is just irritation . But if during a winter walk or swim in the cool water of the pool you have severe swelling or a rash in the form of blisters, then it is quite possible that you have the so-called cold urticaria – an allergic reaction to cold.   

For some unknown reason, the cold destroys the mast cells of the immune system in some people, from which the release of inflammatory mediators occurs. The most famous of these is histamine. Therefore, as with any allergy, antihistamines are used to combat cold urticaria. And also warm sweaters, scarves, protective creams and, possibly, moving to a place with a more favorable climate.

Is there a sun allergy

In addition to the well-known burns and photoaging, hives, itching and rashes can appear from the sun’s rays. It is unclear why, but sometimes the immune system reacts with a release of histamine to the skin cells altered by ultraviolet radiation. Most often, exposed areas are affected, but other parts of the body can also become covered with a rash. Manifestations do not always appear immediately – in some cases, it may take several hours or even days before the first signs.  

The risk of such an allergic reaction is higher in people with fair skin, in those taking certain medications, including antibiotics and pain relievers, and in those with atopic dermatitis – this condition makes the skin thinner, reducing its protective properties. Unfortunately, irritation and, in rare cases, allergies can develop to the components of the sunscreen, so it is better to choose sunscreens with physical (inert) filters and do not forget about other methods of sun protection: thick clothing, hats and umbrellas.       

Whether sneezing
in sunlight is associated
with allergies

The question of why sunlight makes some people sneeze was raised in ancient times – then Aristotle said that this was due to the effect of heat on the human nose. Two thousand years later, Francis Bacon dispelled the theory – he just looked at the light with his eyes closed and did not sneeze.

Today it is known that those with mutations in the ZEB2 and NR2F2 genes sneeze in the sun . The mechanism of their influence is not fully understood, according to the most probable version , they increase the susceptibility of the eye photoreceptors, the signal from which, entering the cerebral cortex, affects groups of neighboring neurons that are sensitive to irritation of the nasal mucosa. The latter, mistaking this for a real signal from the nasal cavity, trigger the sneezing mechanism.   

Despite the fact that this is not an allergy, in the late 80s it was recommended to combat the light sneezing reflex with the help of antihistamines. The methods of that study, however, raise questions, and the mechanisms of sneezing from sunlight and allergies are completely different – so this recommendation is unlikely to be followed.  

What is Cross Allergy

Sometimes an allergy to one substance can provoke a reaction to another. During an allergy exacerbation, antibodies accumulate in the blood, molecules with a unique structure designed to bind a specific allergen. However, if there are a lot of them, and another stimulus, similar in chemical structure, enters the body, antibodies can attack it too. 

For example, cross-reactions can occur to pollen from flowering trees and peaches, apples, certain berries, kiwi and latex, cockroaches and shrimp. Therefore, it is during the hay fever season that some people may develop food allergies, which do not bother in the cold season. True, it is impossible to predict in advance whether an allergy will occur: both in pollen and in products several different allergens fit at once , and it is not a fact that it is the cross reactions that cause the reaction. So it’s definitely not worth giving up fruit just in case.    

Does the risk increase
with age

Children’s age is considered one of the risk factors for the development of allergies . For example, one study found that shrimp intolerant children had four times more antibodies than adults. Apparently, the immune system can independently get used to the allergen – it uses mechanisms that suppress the reaction – however, no one knows whether such a process will start in a particular person. According to preliminary data, tolerance to some allergens is more likely to develop than to others. For example, researchers suggest that humans are more likely to be allergic to cats than to ticks. There is also a known case of spontaneous cure of an allergy to sea fish.         

For the development of allergies, at least two contacts with the allergen are needed: after the first, the so-called sensitization occurs, when antibodies accumulate in the blood; after a second or subsequent contact, they fire off an allergic reaction. As you age, the chances of encountering a dose of an allergen that will cause symptoms increases. Allergies to seafood (shellfish and crustaceans) are much more common in adults than in children – perhaps simply because it is not a typical baby food.   

How allergies and stress are related

Apparently, stress can cause allergies with an already existing genetic predisposition or aggravate its course: if the work of the nervous system gets out of control, then the regulation of immunity may well be disrupted. Perhaps one of the extreme examples of physical and psychological stress is spacewalk. On the one hand, astronauts often experience reactivation of latent viruses like the herpes virus or Epstein-Barr virus, on the other hand, antihistamines and drugs for airway congestion remain one of the most popular on spacecraft.       

Is the risk of allergies related to excess hygiene ? 

There is the so-called theory of hygiene – according to it, the fewer microbes a child’s body encounters, the higher the risk of developing allergies. Ripening immunity needs to constantly do something useful – otherwise, instead of destroying bacteria, it will begin to fight some innocent allergen. In fact, the article that gave rise to the theory said that in order to prevent allergies, it is necessary to provide the child with periodic contact with infections – at least in children who grew up in large families, with brothers and sisters, allergies seem to happen less often. It was not reported that it was necessary to play on a dirty floor, to lick unwashed hands after the street, to hug with homeless animals, to rarely wipe the dust or not to wash.  

It is important to understand that even after the most thorough cleaning, germs remain both on the floor and in the air. Some viruses and bacteria can be really dangerous, so not washing your hands after the street is so-so advice. If you are genetically prone to allergies, the abundance of potential allergens, such as dust and pollen, can trigger a reaction. In general, the content of that very article is still controversial . Interestingly, the effectiveness of another method of preventing allergies – breastfeeding – has recently been refuted. The authors of the 2017 review concluded that breast milk most likely does not protect against allergies in the future.   

Is there an allergy to sugar and poplar fluff  

The classic allergen is a protein molecule; that is why, for example, the same cold urticaria is called not an allergy, but an allergic-type reaction. In general, although allergens can be found in almost any part of the dessert – dough, cream or filling – sugar itself will not cause allergies. The same is with poplar fluff: it is not an allergen, but itching in the nose and eyes, runny nose, lacrimation in the season are the results of mechanical irritation by fluff and, possibly, a reaction to pollen carried by fluff. 

What is pseudoallergy

Unlike allergies, for pseudo-allergies, the period of antibody formation is not needed – so it can develop with the first exposure to the substance. For example, some medications, including NSAIDs, and food ingredients can trigger the release of histamine from mast cells, resulting in typical allergy symptoms such as itching or hives. Sometimes histamine comes from the outside altogether – it is found , for example, in citrus fruits, cocoa, strawberries and some other products; in this case, unlike a real allergy, the reaction will depend on the amount eaten. If a glass of juice never caused a reaction, and three kilograms of tangerines led to hives, this is a pseudo-allergy.   

Is there an allergy to a partner 

Straight to the point: there really is an allergy to semen – though not to sperm, but to semen . The manifestations are different: from local burning, itching and rash to anaphylactic shock . This type of allergy can also be treated with ASIT, and to consolidate the effect, doctors will prescribe regular unprotected sex.  

Like any allergy, this requires a period of sensitization, that is, during the first or first unprotected contacts, there should theoretically be no reaction. Nevertheless, sometimes it occurs on the first try, and immunologists say that the dogs are to blame for this: if sensitized to dog allergens, a cross-reaction to sperm components is possible . Of course, this does not always happen: an allergy may be to a component of dog hair, which has no analogue in semen.   

The reaction can occur to the sperm of one or more partners – but not to others. The reasons for such selectivity of immunity have not yet been sorted out, but perhaps this is not the point: there may be traces of products or drugs in the semen that cause hypersensitivity. And an allergy can also develop after getting a micro dose of an allergen, for example, during a kiss – a case is known when a woman developed anaphylactic shock after kissing a man who ate shrimp the day before. 

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