Are Allergies an Autoimmune Disease?
In recent years, doctors have been increasingly interested in the relationship between allergies and the immune system. Specifically in developed countries, it has been found that many individuals who suffer from allergies also suffer from an autoimmune disease, and vice versa. This has led to the question are allergies an autoimmune disease, or do the two stem from the same fundamental problem?
The Relationship Between Allergies and the Immune System
Allergies are one of the most common chronic health conditions in the world. Symptoms can range from mild and moderate (such as hives and eczema) to severe and life-threatening (anaphylaxis). Allergic reactions are triggered by the immune system in response to an outside substance deemed harmful to the body, such as foods, medications, pollen, mold, and pet dander. Substances that pose no threat to one person (such as peanut butter) can trigger a severe response in another.
When exposed to an allergen – whether the allergen is inhaled, ingested, or enters through the skin – the immune system signals the body to produce antibodies. These antibodies can be very specific, which is why a person may be allergic to only one type of pollen instead of all pollen. The symptoms and severity of an allergic reaction depend on the type and quantity of allergen encountered and how an individual’s immune system reacts to that particular allergen. Hormones, stress, and environmental irritants can also play a role in the severity or development of allergies. These factors can damage or suppress the immune system, further highlighting the link between allergies and the immune system.
Are Allergies an Autoimmune Disease?
Autoimmune disease is a disorder in which the human body treats certain healthy tissues as if they were a threat. Essentially, the immune system fails to recognize these tissues as a part of the body and treats them as outside invaders, reacting to them as it does to bacteria, viruses, and allergens. As a result, allergies and autoimmune diseases often present with very similar symptoms. Both typically cause some sort of redness or swelling, a general feeling of fatigue and sickness, and itchiness is even a common shared symptom (particularly noticeable with Hashimoto’s).
Patients who suffer from both allergies and autoimmune disease often report a synchronization of the two conditions, with allergy flare-ups more common when their autoimmune diseases are at their worst. While the empirical data shows a correlation between how the body handles allergens and autoimmune disease responses, researchers have not yet discovered exactly how these conditions are linked. In order to understand the root cause of these immune system responses, researchers are now studying how the body reacts on a cellular level.
While allergies and autoimmune diseases cause similar reactions in the immune system, they are two different conditions. The main difference between them is the trigger: allergies are a response to external triggers (certain foods or pollens), whereas autoimmune diseases are a response to internal triggers (the body’s own cells). However, it is possible for one condition to contribute to the development of the other. If an autoimmune disease is not treated, the body’s immune system will become compromised and thus more susceptible to attack from allergens. Likewise, untreated, chronic allergies can cause the immune system to remain in a state of heightened response which can cause it to harm the body’s own internal systems, triggering an autoimmune disease.
Treating Allergies & Autoimmune Disease Through Functional Medicine
If you are tired of simply treating symptoms and want to get to the root of your health problems, schedule an appointment with Dr. Minni Malhotra, MD, FAARM, ABAARM. As a Board Certified physician in Family Medicine as well as with the American Board of Anti-aging and Regenerative Medicine, Dr. Malhotra can help you discover the link between your allergies and autoimmune disease and will develop a personalized care plan to help you achieve optimal health. Call us today at (832) 246-8437.