Allergies and the Immune System


Your immune system protects your body from bacteria, viruses and other organisms that can make you sick. Allergies happen when the immune system mistakes a common, otherwise harmless substance, as a dangerous invader.

Examples of common allergens include:

  • Bee stings
  • Dust
  • Foods, including peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish and others
  • Insect bites
  • Latex
  • Mold
  • Pollen

When you immune system attacks one of these substances, it produces immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies that release histamine and other chemicals, causing an allergic reaction in your body. Your reaction may be mild, such as a runny nose, sneezing or rash. A sudden and extreme reaction that may include rash, rapid heartbeat, low pressure and trouble breathing, is called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis can be sudden and life threatening and requires emergency response. For some people, allergies can also trigger asthma.

While allergies are caused by an over-active immune system, another serious condition, called immune deficiency disease, happens when part of the immune system is missing or not working properly. This can increase the frequency and severity of infections. Some people are born with immune deficiency disease, while others may become immune deficient while the body is fighting another disease, such as cancer.

For more information on allergy and immunology services available at or through Coffee Regional Medical Center, call 912.260.1222.