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5 Common Types of Allergies – March 2024

An allergy is when your immune system overreacts to an otherwise benign trigger, like pollen or pet dander. If you encounter one of these triggers — called an allergen — you may experience a range of symptoms, from sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes, or a runny nose to rashes, hives, asthma attacks, or severe trouble breathing.

In rare cases, people can die from allergic reactions to triggers like food, insects, or medications. This is a result of anaphylaxis, and left untreated, anaphylaxis can be fatal. Signs of anaphylaxis include:

  • Swelling of the throat and tongue, so much that it is
    hard to breathe
  • A very rapid heartrate
  • A large drop in blood pressure
  • Dizziness, faintness, or loss of consciousness
  • Hives
  • Gastrointestinal problems (like severe vomiting or diarrhea)

If you — or someone you’re with — is experiencing any of these symptoms, call 911.

Learn more about the common types of allergies, along with allergy symptoms, complications, and treatments.

Airborne allergies

Airborne allergies are allergies to things you encounter in the indoor or outdoor air. These triggers create problems when you breathe them in or get them in your eyes. Common symptoms include itchy eyes, a runny nose, and sneezing. In people with allergies and asthma, some airborne allergens may trigger asthma attacks.

Airborne allergens include molds, pet dander, dust, and pollen from trees, weeds, and grasses. People often call pollen allergies seasonal allergies. More than 25% of adults and almost 20% of children in the U.S. suffer from seasonal allergies.

Skin allergies

Skin allergies are allergies that you experience when your skin comes into contact with an allergen. Common triggers include plants, latex, and certain types of metal. Some people may be triggered by chemicals in personal care products, laundry soaps, or fabric softeners.

Symptoms of exposure to a skin allergen include rashes, hives, and eczema. Symptoms may not appear immediately after contact but may instead appear hours or days later, sometimes making it tricky to pinpoint the trigger. Roughly 20% of people experience skin allergies from contact with a skin allergen.

Food allergies

Most food allergies are caused by one of these nine foods: milk, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, fish, and shellfish.

Symptoms of food allergies can include skin problems, gastrointestinal problems, respiratory issues, dizziness, or even fainting. For some people, food allergies can cause anaphylaxis.

The FDA requires that food manufacturers clearly disclose on their labels when any of these nine common food allergens appear in their products.

Insect allergies

About 5% of the population has an allergic reaction to stings and bites from certain insects, especially bees, wasps, and ants. People with insect sting allergies are at risk of anaphylaxis if they are stung. Every year, roughly 100 people in the U.S. die from anaphylaxis due to insect bites.

Drug allergies

The most common drug allergy is to penicillin, with roughly 1% of people experiencing a true penicillin allergy. Symptoms of a drug allergy can be moderate, like hives and rashes, but such allergies can also cause anaphylaxis.

Drug allergies are the most common causes of death from anaphylaxis.

Allergy treatments

If you’re experiencing less severe allergic reactions — or struggle with chronic or seasonal allergy symptoms — talk to your doctor or an allergist. Allergy testing can help pinpoint your allergy triggers so you can develop an allergy management plan, which may include reducing exposure to known triggers, taking over-the-counter allergy medications, and getting regular allergy shots.

Those who have severe allergies and are at a high risk for anaphylaxis may receive a prescription for injectable epinephrine (also known as an EpiPen), a potentially lifesaving drug that can temporarily reduce symptoms of anaphylaxis until you get to the ER.

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