6 Common Types of Allergies

Allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the United States. It is estimated that over 50 million Americans are affected by some type of allergy. This condition causes the immune system to react or overreact to a foreign substance called an allergen.

Many foreign substances can trigger an allergic reaction, ranging from foods, medications, pets, and airborne particles inhaled through the lungs.

Depending on the allergy type and the severity of the reaction, the symptoms can vary from mild (coughing, itchy eyes, a scratchy throat, sneezing, hives, and a runny nose) to severe and at times life-threatening (triggering an asthma attack, trouble breathing, low blood pressure and even death).

Because reactions can be dangerous, it is important to know your triggers (and your loved ones') and recognize and respond to symptoms as necessary.

This article will review common types of allergens, the associated symptoms, and strategies for managing allergies.

Woman sneezing

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What Causes Allergies?

Allergies are essentially a malfunction of the immune system. Most allergies are thought to be caused by genetics. Children usually inherit a tendency to develop allergies from their parents, not an allergy to a specific allergen.

Some of the common types of triggers of allergies include the following:

  • Food: Common allergy triggers include peanuts, nuts, fish, soy, wheat, shellfish, milk, and eggs
  • Medications: Reaction to certain drugs, most commonly penicillin or penicillin-based antibiotics
  • Latex. An allergy that can be triggered by both contact with the skin or breathing in latex particles from balloons, rubber bands, and paint.
  • Insects: Wasp or bee stings or other insect bites that cause a reaction
  • Airborne allergens: Indoor and outdoor particulates that are breathed in, such as mold, dust mites, pollen, and animal dander.
  • Skin allergen: Certain compounds in skincare products, detergents, and other compounds may cause a rash or other skin reactions

Types of Allergens

Food Allergies

Any food can be an allergen. Depending on the food and the response of the body, the reaction may be classified as a food sensitivity or intolerance rather than an allergy. For instance, lactose intolerance is an inability to digest the lactose in milk rather than an allergy.

Symptoms of a food allergy may include itching, hives, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and swelling around the mouth.

The most common food allergies are the following:

  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Peanuts
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Shellfish
  • Fish
  • Tree nuts

Drug Allergy

True drug allergies are fairly rare. What many people think of as a drug allergy is actually an adverse reaction to a drug.

In a drug allergy, immune compounds called immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies react to the drug. Since the drug circulates through the whole body, it can cause allergy symptoms through the body. Symptoms may include hives, wheezing, shortness of breath, throat and mouth swelling, vomiting, diarrhea, or fainting.

If it's suspected that you may have a drug allergy, your healthcare provider can test to check for an IgE response to certain. Penicillin is the most common drug allergy, occurring in an estimated 10% of people.

Latex Allergy

Latex is found in natural rubber products made from the sap of the Brazilian rubber tree. An allergic reaction can occur from both coming in physical contact with a latex product or from breathing in latex fibers.

Some products that contain latex include the following:

  • Rubber balls
  • Bandages
  • Balloons
  • Rubber bands
  • Condoms and diaphragms
  • Rubber household gloves

Symptoms of a latex allergy typically include swelling, itching, and redness after coming into contact with latex. If you are highly allergic, it's possible to have a more severe reaction to contact or even from a small amount of latex in the air.

Synthetic latex doesn't trigger the same reaction, so it's generally safe for those with a latex allergy to use.

Insect Allergy

It's normal to have a localized reaction, like itching, swelling, redness, or discoloration where the bite or sting occurred, but some people have an outsized reaction to the bites.

Stinging insects like bees, wasps, fire ants, hornets, and yellow jackets are most likely to cause an allergic reaction, and reactions can be severe. If you do have an allergic reaction, it can be life-threatening, so it's important seek medical attention right away.

Early symptoms may include the following:

  • Swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat
  • Skin rashes, itching, or hives
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Stomach pain, vomiting, bloating, or diarrhea
  • Feeling like something awful is about to happen
  • Shortness of breath, trouble breathing, or wheezing

Airborn Allergens

The most common allergy triggers are tiny particles found in indoor and outdoor air. When these particles are breathed in, they can cause inflammation and swelling of the nasal passageways and the delicate tissue around eyes. This, in turn, causes symptoms commonly associated with allergies, such as itchy, watery eyes, congestion, runny nose, and sneezing.

Common airborne allergens include:

  • Dust mites: These are tiny organisms that live in dust in mattresses, box springs, sofas, pillows, carpets, and other household objects.
  • Mold: Mold gives off tiny particles called spores that are breathed in. Mold is often found indoors in damp spaces such as the kitchen and bathroom and outdoors in leaf piles, tree stumps, and mulch.
  • Animal dander: Pets secrete proteins in their sweat (shed off in their dander or dead skin cells) and saliva that can trigger an allergic reaction.
  • Pollen: This is material given off by plants and trees during certain times of the year. It's usually most problematic in the spring and fall.

Skin Allergens

Skin allergies are more common in people with sensitive skin and skin conditions like eczema. An allergic reaction may be triggered by chemicals in skincare products, detergents, and soaps, as well as contact with plants such a poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. Symptoms may include hives, inflammation, rash, and formation of dry, itchy patches.

Types of Allergic Reactions

An allergic reaction happens when the immune system reacts to an allergen. Reactions can be classified as mild, moderate, and severe, with symptoms as follows:

  • Mild: This type includes localized reactions, such as rash or hives where contact with an allergen occurs, and nasal symptoms like itchy, watery eyes, congestion, and runny nose.
  • Moderate: These include symptoms that spread to other parts of the body, including wheezing, trouble breathing, hives, and swelling or inflammation.
  • Severe: Known as anaphylaxis shock, this is a life-threatening response that requires emergency medical care. Within minutes of contact with the allergen, symptoms such as tongue swelling, throat closing, cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, hives, and swelling, may appear. A severe drop in blood pressure can also cause dizziness or mental fogginess.

Identifying and Managing Symptoms

If you have known allergies, it is important to work with your healthcare provider to create a plan for managing your reactions.

If you suspect you have allergies, you can also talk with your healthcare provider about getting tested to confirm your triggers and create a treatment protocol.

In addition, there are other ways that you can keep your allergies under control:

  • Avoid allergens: Do the best you can to avoid allergens. That might mean staying indoors when pollen counts are high or steering clear of your friends' pets. If you know you have a food trigger or a latex allergy, you can read labels and get to know which products are safe for you.
  • Take your medicine: Allergy medication (available over-the-counter or by prescription) can help manage your symptoms. Your healthcare provider can help you understand your options and what will work best for your condition. If you have severe reactions, you may also need to carry an epi-pen with you in case of emergency.
  • Understand your symptoms: It is important to know your symptoms when exposed to an allergen. That way, you will know if you are having a reaction and when medical care is needed.
  • Wear a medical alert bracelet and necklace: Severe allergic reactions can cause swelling in the mouth and throat, making it hard to communicate. Wearing an alert bracelet or having info on your phone that you can easily share can help ensure that you get the help you need in a timely manner.
  • Take notes: Document your allergy triggers, reactions, and what, if anything, helps reduce the symptoms. This will help you understand how to live with allergies. It can also provide valuable information to a healthcare provider that can aid in finding the appropriate allergy management plan.

Remember if you feel an extreme allergic reaction coming on, it is important to call 911 right away and wait for help to arrive. Driving yourself or someone who is having a severe reaction to the hospital may do more harm than good if you don’t have the proper equipment to help them on the way.

Summary

An allergy is a malfunction of the immune system where the body overreacts to a foreign compound called an allergen. There are six main types of allergens: food, medications, latex, insects, airborne compounds, and skin. It's important to know your allergy triggers, especially if you experience severe reactions, so you can avoid them when possible and know when to seek emergency medical care if you have a life-threatening reaction.

A Word From Verywell

If you have allergies, know that you are not alone. There are treatments available to help manage your symptoms. However, it's also important to understand your allergy triggers and your body's response to know if and when you are having a dangerous reaction and can seek help immediately.

Living with a severe allergy can be scary, but your healthcare team can point you toward resources and additional tools to help you navigate life with an allergy and stay safe and healthy.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the most common allergy types?

    Airborne allergens found in your environment are the most common type of allergen. Other types include food allergies, drug allergies, latex allergies, insect allergies, and skin allergies.

  • Which medications trigger an allergic reaction?

    Penicillin and related antibiotics are the most common drug allergy triggers. Other drugs that may cause reactions include antibiotics containing sulfonamides (sulfa drugs), anticonvulsants, aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen, and chemotherapy drugs.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. Allergy overview.

  2. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Drug allergy and other adverse reactions to drugs.

  3. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Latex allergy

  4. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Preventing allergic reactions and controlling allergies.