The scientific disciplines of allergy and immunology involve management of all types of disorders related to dysfunction the immune system. Conditions may range from very common to very rare and can span all ages and all organ systems. Allergic or immunologic illnesses adversely affect a patient’s quality of life; a few are potentially life-threatening.
What is an Allergic Reaction?
An allergic reaction occurs when an individual’s immune system overreacts to an otherwise harmless substance. The immune system identifies this substance, known as an allergen, as being not part of the body. It is the reaction of the immune system and not the allergen itself that triggers injury and results in symptoms. Once the immune system has decided that a substance is an allergen it produces antibodies and specific white blood cells that rapidly identify the allergen on re-exposure. Once activated, these antibodies and white blood cells summon other elements of the immune system to produce the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
What is Immunology?
The study of immunology involves exploring the role of the immune system in illness and in health. By already knowing which substances are part of the body, the immune system first identifies foreign substances and then attempts to rid the body of these substances before they cause harm. The immune system can effectively rid the body of most infections caused by bacteria, viruses, funguses and parasites. The immune system also detects transformed or damaged cells within the body destroying them before they can grow into dangerous tumors. When the immune system fails in these duties infectious illness or cancer results. Sometimes the immune system causes disease by overactivity. When the immune system overreacts to minor changes in cells suddenly misidentifying them as foreign autoimmune disease may result. When the immune system overreacts to substances that enter the body from outside but are otherwise harmless a reaction, called an allergic reaction, may occur.
Are allergists the only immunologists?
To some extent, the immune system is involved in every disease known to man. Even injury from an accident will ultimately involve the immune system in assisting the body in repairing the injury and preventing secondary infection. Several types of doctor focus their expertise on different aspects of immune system dysfunction.
- Allergists diagnose and treat allergic disorders like hay fever, asthma, eczema, food allergies and anaphylaxis. Allergists also focus on recurrent and chronic infections caused by a condition known as immunodeficiency
- Rheumatologists diagnose and treat autoimmune disorders like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis
- Oncologists diagnose and treat cancer, a disease that often results from a weakened immune system.
See Your Doctor Today!
Your primary care provider or an allergist can help if you are struggling with allergic symptoms or if you have increased susceptibility to infections.