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Overview of Aeroallergens, Irritants and Respiratory Conditions
|Allergy and Allergy Like Health Conditions - Aeroallergens and Irritants|
An Overview of Aeroallergens/Irritants and Respiratory Conditions
By Dr S Martin (PhD)
This article provides an overview of aeroallergens and irritants that can cause allergic/irritant symptoms and what types of reactions they produce.
Allergens are substances that trigger the production of IgE antibodies. Once sensitised, exposure to the allergen causes IgE antibodies bind to the allergen precipitating the release of histamine. This results in inflammation and local swelling of the affected area.
Allergens that are dispersed in the air are known as Aeroallergens. Both outdoor and indoor aeroallergens sensitise and exacerbate conditions such as allergic asthma and rhinitis and conjunctivitis. The severity of the symptoms produced by an allergen varies from person to person and from allergen to allergen.
Irritants are substances that cause non-IgE (i.e. non-allergy) mediated inflammation of mucosal membranes of the respiratory tract, eyes, nose and throat. Irritants can also have an adverse effect on neurogenic mechanisms causing symptoms such as headache and difficulty concentrating.
A Chemical Allergy can be described as the adverse health effects from stimulation of an immune response by chemicals. The health effects include respiratory sensitisation (rhinitis, asthma) and contact hypersensitivity.
There is often an overlap between allergic and irritant processes. Chemicals are often not only irritants but also allergens (e.g. formaldehyde).
Allergens and irritants can be inhaled (airborne), ingested (Food) or through direct contact with the skin. Inhaled allergens can provoke an immune response in the upper and lower respiratory tract, the eyes and the skin. All conditions involve inflammation and increased activity of the mucosal membrane.
An allergic reaction may spread rapidly from the site of allergen contact and in extreme cases may cause anaphylaxis and death.
Exposure to airborne allergens/irritants can, in sensitive/atopic individuals, produce signs and symptoms of airborne allergies such as
• Sneezing, often with a runny or clogged nose;
• Coughing and postnasal drip;
• Itching eyes, nose, and throat;
• Watering eyes ;
They can also aggravate asthma, the symptoms of which include
• Coughing ,
• Wheezing ,
• Shortness of breath.
Other symptoms that maybe triggered by allergens/irritants include
• Hoarseness of voice and Voice changes,
Body Systems Affected
A summary of the body systems affected by Airborne Allergens/Irritants are shown in the following table.
Upper respiratory tract
Nose, sinuses with involvement of the eyes (ocular conjunctiva), ears and upper palate.
Sneezing, runny nose, teary eyes, itchy ears and palate
Vocal Cord Dysfunction
Larynx (voice box). The larynx can be considered the upper airway valve that helps to keep the lungs expanded
Hoarseness of voice, Shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, difficulty breathing in
Lower respiratory tract
Major airways, lungs, chest
Shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, chest tightness
Anywhere on the body.
Itching, rashes, sores, blisters and other skin eruptions
In addition, these conditions can co-exist in the same individual e.g. Asthma and Rhinitis; Rhinitis and Sinusitis; Rhinitis and Conjunctivitis and Mixed allergic and Non-Allergic Rhinitis.
Aeroallergens and Irritants
A summary of the types of Aeroallergens/Irritants that can trigger these conditions are shown in the table below.
(Indoor and Outdoor)
Source of Indoor Airborne particles
(Indoor and Outdoor sources)
Moulds and fungus spores,
Cotton lint, feathers, and other stuffing materials;
Dander from cats, dogs, and other animals;
Pieces of plants and insects.
Dust Mite allergens
This is apart from allergens specific to an individual building – e.g. pesticides, fragrances, painting etc.
Environmental Tobacco Smoke,
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
In the next article information on sources of aeroallergens will be expanded.
If you suspect you have an allergy, visit your GP or Allergy specialist.
ASEHA leaflets on Indoor and Outdoor Air pollution; Chemical Sensitivity; Pesticides; Skin Allergy
For more information on the allergic diseases and the prevention of allergic reactions to aeroallergens please visit the following sites.
ASCIA website http://www.allergy.org.au/content/category/3/48/241/ Provides information about the Allergenic Pollen plants, and what times of the year the plants usually flower all over Australia.
Asthma Foundation www.asthmaaustralia.org.au
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious diseases http://www.niaid.nih.gov/
World Allergy Association www.worldallergy.org
RPAH allergy clinic www.sswahs.nsw.gov.au/rpa/allergy/
National Asthma Council of Australia http://www.nationalasthma.org.au/content/view/460/632/#ar
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Last Updated (Friday, 07 October 2011 23:15)