Medical Conditions

Allergic Conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis is the most common allergy affecting the eyes. The conjunctivae—the thin membranes covering the eyelids and the exposed surface of the eyes—is an active tissue of the immune system that responds to allergies caused by airborne particles, or allergens.

Allergic conjunctivitis can appear in two forms: seasonal and perennial. The seasonal version is much more common, and is related to exposure to specific airborne allergens, such as grass, tree and weed pollens and molds. The perennial form persists throughout the year and is usually triggered by dust mites, animal dander and feathers.

Allergic Rhinitis and Sinusitis

Rhinitis is an inflammation of the mucous membranes of the nose. Symptoms include:

  • Sneezing
  • Itchy nose, roof of the mouth, throat, eyes and ears
  • Runny nose
  • Congestion
  • Watery eyes

Seasonal allergic rhinitis (or hay fever) is caused by allergens like mold and pollen.

Some people have symptoms of rhinitis no matter what the season. This is called perennial allergic rhinitis. It can be caused by allergens such as animal dander, indoor mold, dust mites and cockroaches.

Sinusitis is a painful, long-lasting inflammation of the sinuses. Sinuses are the hollow cavities around the cheek bones found around the eyes and behind the nose.

Symptoms of sinusitis include:

  • Congestion
  • Green or gray nasal discharge
  • Postnasal drip
  • Pressure in the face
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • A cough that won't go away

Sinusitis is common in the winter. It may last for months or years if it is not properly treated. Colds are the most common cause of acute sinusitis, but people with allergies are much more likely to develop sinusitis than people who do not have allergies.


Anaphylaxis (an-a-fi-LAK-sis) is a serious allergic reaction that happens to some people who have allergies to food, insect stings, drugs or latex.

Anaphylaxis happens very quickly and affects your entire body. Signs usually start within 5 to 30 minutes of coming into contact with the thing to which you are allergic. But it may take more than an hour for you to notice anaphylactic symptoms. Warning signs may include:

  • A red rash, with welts, that is usually itchy
  • Swollen throat or swollen areas of the body
  • Wheezing
  • Passing out
  • Chest tightness
  • Trouble breathing
  • A hoarse voice
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach cramping
  • A pale or red color to the face and body

Anaphylaxis requires immediate medical treatment. If you think you are having this type of reaction, use your autoinjectable epinephrine and call 911 immediately.


Angioedema is a swelling of the deeper layers of the skin and often occurs with hives. Angioedema itself is not red or itchy and most often occurs in the body's soft tissue, such as the eyelids, mouth or genitals.

Angioedema is called "acute" if the condition lasts only a short time (minutes to days) and does not recur. This is commonly caused by an allergic reaction to medications or foods.

Chronic recurrent angioedema occurs when the condition returns over a long period of time. Chronic recurrent angioedema most often does not have an identifiable cause.


Take Our Asthma Quiz

Asthma is a chronic disease that affects about 20 million Americans. Its primary cause is inflamed airways in the lungs. This inflammation makes the airways smaller, which makes it more difficult for air to move in and out of the lungs. Asthma is the most common serious disease among children. Nine million children in the United States have asthma.

Signs that you might have asthma include:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness

Many people have "allergic asthma," which means that allergens - like dust mites, mold, animal dander, pollen and cockroaches - make their symptoms worse.

Other things that can affect adult asthma include:

  • Pregnancy: Uncontrolled asthma can harm the health of a mother and her baby.
  • Work situations: Fumes, gases or dust that are inhaled at work can trigger asthma.
  • Age: Older people with asthma face unique health challenges.
  • Exercise: Some people may have asthma symptoms when they exercise.
  • Medications: Medications like aspirin and ibuprofen, or beta-blockers (used to treat heart disease, high blood pressure, migraine headaches or glaucoma), may cause an asthma attack in some adults.

Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is a chronic or recurrent atopic inflammatory skin disease that usually begins in the first few years of life. It is often the initial clinical manifestation of an atopic predisposition, with many children later developing asthma and/or allergic rhinitis (hay fever).

Contact Dermatitis

Contact Dermatitis refers to a broad range of reactions resulting from the direct contact of an exogenous agent (allergen or irritant) with the surface of the skin.


A common allergic reaction often affecting the face, elbows and knees is atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema. This red, scaly, itchy rash is usually seen in young infants, but can occur later in life in individuals with personal or family histories of atopy, meaning asthma or allergic rhinitis ("hay fever"). Eczema may at times ooze, or at times may look very dry. A physician will rarely have difficulty diagnosing atopic dermatitis, based on three factors: an 1) itchy, 2) "eczematous" or bubbly rash in an 3) atopic individual. If one of these three features is missing, your physician should consider other causes.

Food Allergy

People with food allergies have an allergic reaction when they come in contact with certain foods. This happens because their immune system overreacts to the proteins in that food. Twelve million people in the United States have food allergies.

Eight kinds of food cause most food allergies:

  • Cow's milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Tree nuts

Signs of a food allergy include:

  • A rash, or red, itchy skin
  • Stuffy or itchy nose, sneezing, or itchy and teary eyes
  • Vomiting, stomach cramps or diarrhea
  • Angioedema or swelling

Some people with food allergies can have a serious reaction called anaphylaxis. Signs of this kind of reaction include:

  • Hoarseness, throat tightness or a lump in the throat
  • Wheezing, chest tightness or trouble breathing
  • Tingling in the hands or feet, lips or scalp

If you have any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately. 

Hives (Urticaria)

Urticaria, also called hives, are red, itchy, swollen areas of the skin that can range in size and appear anywhere on the body. The blotches can migrate on body, appearing in different areas throughout the course of the reaction.

Usually, the cause of urticaria is readily identifiable—often a viral infection, or allergic reaction to drugs, food or latex. These hives usually go away spontaneously or by avoiding the allergic trigger. However, in some cases, medical intervention is needed to increase comfort or prevent recurrence. Treatment with oral antihistamines is frequently successful, but in severe cases, steroids may be needed.

Some people have chronic urticaria that occurs almost daily for months or, in some cases, years. For these individuals, scratching, pressure or stress may aggravate hives. An allergist/immunologist can diagnosis the problem and prescribe treatments for this bothersome condition.


The immune system is a network of cells and organs that work together to defend the body against attacks by "foreign" invaders. The foreign invaders are germs. The body provides an excellent environment for germs and microbes. When they do break into a system it is the immune system's job to keep them out or to seek and destroy them. When the immune system is malfunctioning it can cause a variety of diseases, such as allergy, arthritis, cancer or AIDS.


Infection occurs when a disease-causing germ such as a bacteria, virus or fungus invades the body. To become infected, you must catch the germ (exposure) and have the ability to become infected (susceptibility). Susceptibility is more complicated than exposure. We are all susceptible to infection by thousands of different germs. The purpose of the immune system is to prevent infection by recognizing germs and eliminating or disabling them before they can cause infection.

People with immunodeficiency get the same kinds of infections that other people get—ear infections, sinusitis and pneumonia. The difference is that their infections occur more frequently, are often more severe, and have a greater risk of complications.

Insect Sting Allergy

For most people, an insect sting means a little pain and discomfort. But some people may have trouble breathing or itch and have hives all over their body after being stung. These people are allergic to insect stings. This means that their immune system overreacts to the insect's venom.

Most allergic insect sting reactions are caused by five kinds of insects:

  • Yellow jackets
  • Honeybees
  • Paper wasps
  • Hornets
  • Fire ants

For people who are very allergic to an insect's venom, a sting may cause a dangerous allergic reaction called anaphylaxis (an-a-fi-LAK-sis).

Signs of anaphylaxis include:

  • Itching and hives over a large part of the body
  • Swollen throat or tongue
  • Trouble breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • Diarrhea

Latex Allergy

Latex allergy occurs when the body's immune system reacts to proteins found in natural rubber latex.

Exposure to latex often results in contact dermatitis symptoms. However, in some individuals, latex allergy can trigger a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. If you suspect you have an allergy to latex, visit an allergist/immunologist to discuss the best prevention and treatment methods.

Natural rubber latex is a processed plant product used in the production of sterile gloves, balloons and condoms. It is derived almost exclusively from the sap of the tree Hevea brasiliensis found in Africa and Southeast Asia.

Certain fruits and vegetables (such as bananas, chestnuts, kiwi, avocado and tomato) can cause allergic symptoms in some latex-sensitive individuals. Synthetic products, including latex house paints, have not been shown to pose any hazard to latex-sensitive individuals.

Medication Reactions

Many patients experience adverse reactions to medications. Only a small percent of these reactions, however, are true allergic reactions. An allergic reaction means the patient’s immune system is programmed to recognize a certain medication and produce a specific reaction whenever it encounters that drug.

The most potentially severe allergic reaction to a drug is anaphylaxis. This happens when the patient, unknowingly, has a large amount of an allergy protein (called IgE antibody) in his or her body specific for a drug, such as penicillin.

Primary Immunodeficiency Diseases

Primary Immunodeficiency Diseases (PIDD) comprise a group of more than 100 diseases which are due to defects in the body's defenses (immune system). These diseases affect thousands of infants, children, and adults in the United States.

In most cases, PIDD are associated with acute or recurrent infections depending on the portion of the immune system affected. Most PIDD are inherited in our genes, so they are present at birth, but they often do not become apparent or diagnosed until late in childhood, or even in adult life. It often takes time for a pattern of recurrent infections or other symptoms to develop before a PIDD is suspected. There are more than 100 different genetic causes of PIDD.

Signs that you or your child might have a PIDD include:

  • Recurrent, unusual, or difficult to treat infections
  • Poor growth or loss of weight
  • Recurrent pneumonia, ear infections or sinusitis
  • Multiple courses of antibiotics or IV antibiotics necessary to clear infections
  • Recurrent deep abscesses of the organs or skin
  • A family history of PIDD
  • Swollen lymph glands or an enlarged spleen
  • Autoimmune disease