When it comes to allergies, everyone knows the most common culprits. Pets are often one of the first things people think of, along with dust, pollen, and detergent. Food allergies are common and can be severe, with 200,000 emergency room visits a year caused by an allergic reaction to something the patient ate. But people can be allergic to far more than just dust, pet hair, food and pollen.
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What is an allergic reaction?
An allergic reaction is when the body reacts to an allergen as though it were a virus or bacteria. Instead of realizing the allergen is completely harmless, the immune system releases white blood cells to fight it off. The body also releases histamine, an active substance which causes muscle tissue in the lungs and stomach to contract, blood vessels to dilate, the heart rate to rise and gastric acid secretion to increase. The side effect of this can be symptoms ranging from itchy or runny nose right up to hives and anaphylaxis.
As for why we get allergies in the first place, science is still undecided. Understanding allergies is made harder by the huge variety of things that humans can be allergic to. As the seven unusual and downright baffling allergies below prove, pretty much anything is dangerous to someone.
1. Aquagenic urticaria
This is perhaps the most unfair allergy to have: an allergy to water. Not only is two thirds of the Earth’s surface covered in it, it’s also pretty important for our survival. Unlike most allergies, which are caused by histamine, an allergy to water is treated with capsaicin creams. It is widely believed that this allergy is caused by additives in the water, rather than the actual water itself.
2. Cold urticaria
Most people have less than favorable feelings towards winter, but for those with Cold urticaria, this time of year can be more than unpleasant. Of course, an allergy to cold can be triggered at any time of year, so sufferers must make sure not to expose large portions of their body to low temperatures. Suddenly getting very cold can cause a huge drop in blood pressure thanks to the release of a large amount of histamine.
Just like the other allergies in this list, a reaction to alpha-galactose (a carbohydrate found in red meat) is extremely rare. There are several factors surrounding this particular allergy that make it noteworthy. The first is that there is usually a delay between ingestion of red meat and the symptoms of the allergy – often several hours. Another interesting fact is that 80% of patients in one study who showed a reaction to alpha-galactose had previously been bitten by ticks at some point in their lives.
Progesterone is a hormone released during a woman’s menstrual cycle. It can often cause acne among women, but few suffer from a condition known as autoimmune progesterone dermatitis, which causes severe hives to break out. This allergy can be treated with hormone therapy.
5. Cell phones
Technically this is actually quite common – this is a form of contact dermatitis caused by exposure to nickel. A lot of Americans are allergic to nickel (it is because of nickel that many people are allergic to money), however it is on the list because not many people would think to check their phones. When it comes to our cells, we tend not to give our devices a second’s thought, which is odd considering how much time we spend handling them, or touching them to our faces.
Some people have an allergy to touch. It can be so sensitive that simply brushing their skin can cause symptoms. These can be localized to the particular area of contact, or they can present across the whole body. While some people use the reactions to create messages and designs on their skin (the word Dermatographism means ‘skin writing’), others can find their reactions so severe that they have to make lifestyle changes to avoid painful physical contact.
Some people like to joke that lazy people they know must have an allergy to exercise, but it is a real thing. Exercise-induced anaphylaxis is a reaction to physical exertion: one that can be strong enough to kill. It can cause some of the most extreme symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as troubled breathing, nausea, headache, swelling, and wheezing. What makes this so dangerous is that some of the symptoms of a reaction, especially respiratory problems, could just seem like the person is out of breath because they have been physically active.
What else could we be allergic to?
Most of the allergies explored here are extremely rare. On top of these strange reactions, there are plenty of common allergies that can manifest in unusual ways thanks to the way common modern products are developed. Thanks to materials such as latex being used in the manufacturing of many items, people have reported allergic reactions being caused by shoes, underwear, and even the handrails on escalators.
These rare conditions can often be difficult to diagnose simply because there have been few recorded cases, and the symptoms present themselves in a confusing way. What these cases have shown us, however, is that it is possible to be allergic to almost anything. These strange allergies are not mild, either. In fact, many of them can be fatal if not managed properly.
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