Hypersensitivities vs. Allergies: What’s the Confusion?

Hypersensitivities Are Real
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What’s the confusion? I’ll explain. This is (partly) how doctors classify Type 1 Hypersensitivities:

Hypersensitivities (Type I)

/            \

Allergies (Pollen)                    “The Other” Hypersensitivities


Allergies: The immune system’s reactions to tree, weed, or grass pollen, all harmless foreign substances.

“The Other” Hypersensitivities: The immune system’s reactions to any foreign substance, in the body or just touching the body, except pollen.

See what causes the confusion? The over-arching hypersensitivity category and the hypersensitivity subcategory have the same name. As a result, many people say allergies when referring to hypersensitivities. So do I, sometimes. After all, allergies is much easier to say than hypersensitivities.

But when I’m writing for this site, I will always distinguish between allergies and the other hypersensitivities. Sometimes, I will even refer to allergies as pollen allergies, though the phrase is redundant.

Motion sickness is a hypersensitivity.

Lactose intolerance is a hypersensitivity.

A drug side effect is a hypersensitivity.

A local reaction from an allergy shot is a hypersensitivity.

Any reaction not triggered by pollen is a hypersensitivity—a simple hypersensitivity.

What are some differences between allergies and the other hypersensitivities?

Pollen Allergies
Other Hypersensitivities
Tend to make you sneeze and/or to stuff up your sinuses
Tend to make you itch, bother your stomach, or give you headaches
Tend to decrease with age
Tend to increase with age
People understand allergies, say “Bless you,” when you sneeze
People rarely understand hypersensitivities or believe you have them

Dr. Jean M. Bradt
Ph.D., Psychology, Loyola University of Chicago, 1988

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