Diseases and Disorders > Chronic Conditions

The Facts About Allergies

Find out how allergies affect your sexual health.

A man blows his nose into a tissue outside with a tree behind him.

It's estimated that as many as 32 million people in the United States have food allergies, while symptoms of seasonal allergies may affect around 60 million people. Research has also indicated that 30 percent to 35 percent of children born in the U.S. have some kind of allergy, compared with an estimated 20 percent of kids born outside the country.


Allergy and immunology is the sector of medicine focused on all health conditions related to the immune system. Cold-related symptoms were first identified as hay fever in 1819.

Allergic reactions vary in strength. Some are so minor they are hardly noticed, while others are severe enough to compromise mortality. There is no connection between allergy prevalence and socioeconomics, race, gender or age. Anyone can be afflicted with allergies.

Types of allergies

Allergies come in many known varieties, and each type poses its own level of danger because people are unequally reactive to allergens. In regard to consumption, the following foods are common irritants for allergy sufferers:

  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Shellfish

Many drugs—both prescription and over-the-counter—can also cause flare-ups. Some examples include:

  • Antibiotics containing sulfonamides
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Aspirin, ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Chemotherapy drugs
  • Penicillin and related antibiotics

In addition, many allergens exist in both indoor and outdoor environments:

  • Animal bites (as well as animal fur, hair, saliva and skin cells)
  • Dust and dust mites
  • Insect stings
  • Latex
  • Mold
  • Pollen in the air

Causes of allergies

Allergies are the result of an overreaction from the immune system, which serves as our body's protector. Sometimes it perceives a harmless substance as an attack. To fight it, the immune system produces proteins called antibodies that neutralize and/or remove the allergen(s).

As antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE) migrate across other cells, chemicals such as histamine are dispersed. The phenomenon manifests as visible allergic reactions. People with severe allergies may experience symptoms within seconds of contact and can have life-threatening reactions.

Allergy symptoms

The potential afflictions depend on the nature of the allergy. Cold-like symptoms, such as those seen with hay fever, are common and include:

  • Eye irritation
  • Nasal obstruction
  • Sore throat 

Dermatological issues, including hives and rashes, may also arise. They primarily affect the point of contact but can also spread to other areas. Skin reactions often cause itchiness as well.

In extreme cases, a life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis can occur. It affects the entire body and can cause major swelling, along with problems with respiration, digestion and cognition.

Allergies and asthma

Difficulty breathing and respiratory problems associated with allergies go hand in hand with asthma. When a person has asthma, airways within their lungs become inflamed and mucus production increases, which makes it harder for air to pass through. Chronic allergies, combined with these symptoms, may indicate asthma; having allergic asthma means the allergens themselves spur a reaction.

Though many people start experiencing asthma symptoms at a young age, adult-onset asthma also poses a risk and is commonly rooted in allergen exposure. Frequent perpetrators include mold, dust and dust mites, secondhand smoke and chemicals.

Diagnosis and testing

Sometimes allergies are clearly apparent. If someone suddenly swells up like a balloon whenever they eat peanut butter, there's a good chance it's an allergic reaction and the diagnosis should be straightforward. However, symptoms are not always this obvious, because allergens can come from anywhere and be a result of both direct and indirect contact.

For less clear causes, a healthcare provider can perform a number of tests for proper diagnosis. These include dermatological, blood and challenge tests. Challenge tests are for food allergies and strictly monitored by an allergist.

Treatment options

Depending on the severity of the allergy, there are many treatment choices. For less severe symptoms, antihistamines, decongestants and corticosteroids are available over the counter or with a prescription and can be taken topically or orally. People with allergic asthma should always carry an inhaler in case of sudden breathing problems.

For moderate to severe reactions, an EpiPen may be required and should always be kept handy. EpiPen is the brand name of a device used to deliver lifesaving medication to people with unavoidable allergies.

Immunotherapy, which typically involves administering an allergy shot weekly or twice weekly for a period of time, is a sufficient method for treatment-resistant allergies and the only method that actually modifies the immune system.

Allergies and sexual health

Not only do allergies affect our public lives, they can also wreak havoc in private, too. For example, latex—what most condoms are made of—is a frequent allergen. If affected, you may need to look into alternate materials or methods of protection. The same goes for sex toys, lubricants, lotions and other personal care products. In extremely rare cases, semen can be the allergic culprit, a condition known as human seminal plasma (HSP) hypersensitivity.

Allergic symptoms themselves can negatively impact your sex life. Congestion, rashes, fatigue, soreness, swelling and general cold and flu-like symptoms are not conducive to an enjoyable sexual experience.

Living with allergies

Unfortunately, there is no cure for allergies. They are lifelong conditions that require some degree of management, so it's important to pinpoint your specific allergy triggers and take the right precautions to combat a potential emergency. Avoid allergens if possible, and if you need an EpiPen or inhaler to control your allergy in a life-threatening situation, make sure to keep it nearby at all times.

You should visit an allergist or immunologist if you have new or particular areas of concern, or you feel a more intensive approach is needed for your specific allergy symptoms.


What is the main cause of allergies?

Allergies occur when the body's natural defense system—the immune system—mistakenly sees a harmless substance as a threat and sends antibodies to fight it off.

The influx of antibodies sets off a chain reaction that presents as a range of allergy symptoms. Allergy triggers can have both indoor and outdoor origins.

What is the best treatment for allergies?

Depending on symptom severity, allergy sufferers should aim for the least invasive form of treatment. Antihistamines, decongestants and corticosteroids are readily available with or without a prescription. They are often sufficient for less serious problems.

For worse cases, an EpiPen or other forms of immunotherapy can be used to ward off allergies to the best of your ability, but you should speak with your healthcare provider if you experience more serious allergic reactions.

Are allergies hereditary?

Though there is no causal link between family medical history and allergies, research has indicated there is a strongly correlated genetic component to allergy prevalence.

Children of allergy sufferers are typically 50 percent to 80 percent more likely to develop them when compared with the main population, but allergies are not congenital—no one is born with them.