Allergies can be bothersome for some, especially when they lead to certain more acute conditions, several of which relate to what's known as atopy. If you or your loved one has ever suffered from asthma, hay fever, or eczema, there's a chance you've experienced atopic conditions firsthand.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), atopy is the genetic predisposition to develop allergic diseases such as asthma, hay fever (allergic rhinitis), and eczema (atopic dermatitis). People with an atopic condition tend to respond with heightened immune responses to common allergens, especially inhaled allergens and food allergens. Let's look at the three most common atopic conditions, commonly referred to as the atopic triad.
Asthma is a chronic disease that means the lung's airways, or bronchial tubes, are constantly inflamed, according to the AAAAI. When something such as physical activity or fumes triggers asthmatic symptoms, the tubes become more swollen and their surrounding muscles tighten, which makes it difficult to breathe and causes symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. Asthma can be caused by many factors, such as exercise or your occupation, but it often occurs in people with a family history of allergies.
Asthma has no cure, but the proper treatment, such as inhalers or medication, can keep it under control so it doesn't affect your participation in normal physical activities, according to the American Lung Association.
Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, comes in two forms -- allergic and nonallergic. As an atopic condition, it refers to the form caused by allergens and occurs when your immune system mistakenly identifies something harmless as an intruder. In such situations, your body responds "by releasing histamine and chemical mediators that typically cause symptoms in the nose, throat, eyes, ears, skin, and roof of the mouth," the AAAAI says.
Seasonal allergic rhinitis could be caused by pollen in the air. Other common triggers include pet dander, mold, droppings from dust mites, and cockroach particles. Other irritants include smoke, strong odors, or changes in the temperature and humidity outside. The best treatment for hay fever is to avoid the allergens that trigger symptoms. Your doctor may also prescribe medications, such as nasal sprays or allergy shots.
While eczema symptoms vary, they often occur as dry, sensitive skin, red or inflamed skin, scaly areas, intense itching, or dark-colored patches of skin typically appearing on the insides of the elbows, backs of the knees, and the face. While there are many types of eczema, atopic dermatitis is the most severe and long-lasting. The exact causes of eczema are unknown, though the condition is thought to be genetically passed down.
While everyone's experience with eczema is different, irritants and triggers can make the condition worse; these include soaps and detergents, shampoos, bubble baths, and even juices from fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats. Allergens such as dust mites, pets, pollen, and mold may also be triggers, as well as microbes (certain bacteria and viruses), hot or cold temperatures, food allergens, stress, and hormones. To treat eczema, those affected should avoid these triggers whenever possible and moisturize every day, wear cotton or soft fabrics, and take lukewarm baths and showers.
Atopic conditions are not typically life-threatening, but as chronic conditions, they can be bothersome to deal with. Speak with your doctor to determine whether you have any of these atopic conditions, and develop an appropriate plan for treatment to help you avoid your triggers and lead a healthier life.