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HEALTH REPORT - May 1, 2002: Allergies - 2002-04-30

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Many different substances and organisms in the environment affect our health. An allergy is an unusually strong reaction to a substance. The substance may not be harmful under normal conditions. However, the way some people react to a common substance may not be normal. People may feel as though they are very sick from an infection.

Many different things can cause allergies. The most common cause is pollen. Trees and many other kinds of plants release huge amounts of pollen into the air to reproduce successfully. To make things worse, different kinds of plants produce pollen at different times of the year. For example, trees usually produce pollen in the spring. Grasses pollinate in the summer. Weeds produce pollen in the autumn.

Many other things can cause allergies. They include organisms such as dust mites and molds, dead skin particles on dogs and cats, chemicals, plants, medicines and some common foods. Insect bites also can cause allergic reactions.

There are several kinds of allergic reactions. The most common reaction is watery, itchy eyes and a blocked or watery nose. Other reactions include red, painful, itchy skin. Some allergic reactions can be so extreme that they are life-threatening. For example, allergic reactions that block breathing tubes are very dangerous.

Doctors say there are several ways to treat allergies. They say people should try to avoid the substances that cause allergic reactions. Medicines called antihistamines are used to treat allergies. These are some of the most widely used medicines in the United States.

Another treatment is called immunotherapy. This involves injecting a patient with small amounts of the allergy-causing substance. Larger and larger amounts are given. Over time, the patient develops a resistance to the allergy-causing substance. This treatment is usually effective against allergies to small particles in the air, like pollen or dust, and insect bites. However, this treatment is generally not used for allergies to foods.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases says more than fifty-million Americans suffer from allergies. The organization also says that treatments for allergies cost Americans eighteen-thousand-million dollars each year.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Mario Ritter.