What are the most common allergies?

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It seems like everyone I know is allergic to something, but they’re all different. What are the most common things to be allergic to?

  1. Allergy blues

    It seems these days that more and more people are finding themselves allergic to something — gluten, peanuts, pet dander, and so on. I’m certainly not immune — I’m allergic to work. However, it is important to differentiate between an allergy and an intolerance, particularly when it comes to food.

    An allergic reaction is one that causes the immune system to generate histamines and can lead to anaphylaxis — a severe allergic reaction that can lead to death if not treated quickly.

    An intolerance doesn’t involve the immune system whatsoever. Yes, if you’re lactose intolerant, drinking milk is going to give you horrible gas and probably diarrhea. But you’re not having an allergic reaction — your immune system doesn’t get involved. Your body just doesn’t like milk.

    Here are some of the more common allergies, broken into categories.

    Food

    According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), these are some of the most common food allergies:

    • Cow’s milk
    • Eggs
    • Peanuts
    • Wheat
    • Soy
    • Fish
    • Shellfish
    • Tree nuts

    Peanuts and tree nuts are the leading cause of severe food allergic reactions, with even tiny amounts having the potential to cause almost immediate swelling of the throat and anaphylaxis. If you or someone in your family is this allergic, an epinephrine auto-injector (commonly known by the brand name EpiPen) should always be close at hand.

    Environmental

    There are also things found all over the place that can cause sniffles, sneezes and watery eyes (allergic rhinoconjunctivitis) and more extensive allergic reactions. Kaiser Permanente notes that these are some of the most common environmental allergens:

    • Pollen
    • Dust
    • Animal dander
    • Mold
    • Mildew
    • Dust mites

    The dust mite — well, specifically the little guy’s poop — is considered to be the single most common indoor cause of environmental allergies.

    Drugs

    According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), here is a list of the most common drug allergies:

    • Penicillin (and related drugs)
    • Sulfa-based drugs
    • Anticonvulsants (used in the treatment of seizures)
    • Insulin preparations (particularly animal sources)
    • Iodinated x-ray contrast dyes (used to improve the visibility of body structures for x-ray or CT scans)

    By and large the most common drug allergy is to penicillin and other related antibiotics, with sulfa antibiotics being a fairly distant runner-up.

    How do I know if I have allergies?

    I’m glad you asked! The only true way to know is to see your doctor and ask to have an allergy test performed. For your convenience, we’ve written up some of the common types so you’ll know what questions to ask your doc, and what to expect.

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