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What Happens in the Body During an Allergic Reaction?
Allergens are typically harmless substances that trigger an immune response and cause a reaction in people who are allergic. The allergic reaction occurs if the person inhales, touches, swallows, injects, or somehow comes into contact with the allergen. Allergic reactions can be mild, severe, or even life threatening.
Normally, the immune system protects the body against harmful substances, such as viruses or bacteria. If you have allergies, “your body responds to allergens as if they were invaders,” explains Clifford Bassett, MD, a clinical assistant professor at New York University Langone Health in New York City and the author ofThe New Allergy Solution. “Your body exaggerates the immune response. That’s what causes histamine release and other things that cause allergy misery.”
Histamine acts as a neurotransmitter, sending messages between cells. It plays a key role in many different physiological functions, such as telling your stomach to produce acid to digest food or helping regulate your sleep-wake cycle. (5)
When your immune system reacts to an allergen, it produces an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). The production of IgE is part of your body's attempt to destroy the allergen and protect itself. Your blood vessels dilate and become leaky, so white blood cells that fight infection and other protective substances leave the blood vessels to attack the invader.
In the process, the IgE antibodies signal other cells to release certain chemicals, such as histamine. Too much histamine in the body can cause an unwanted response that leads to skin, nose, throat, and lung irritation.
In this way, a normally protective process creates a cascade of what we know as allergy symptoms in response to harmless allergens.
Video: Managing Food Allergies
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