Hypersensitivities For Dummies
What are hypersensitivity reactions?
First, if you are a Hypersensitive, your immune system reacts to substances to which others’ immune systems don’t react.
These reactions are the body’s normal responses to substances from outside the body. That is, a hypersensitive reaction is the immune system’s response to a substance to which the body is exposed, just as it’s supposed to do. (Trouble is, it’s responding to harmless substances.)
What are hypersensitivity triggers?
A hypersensitivity trigger is any harmless substance that a Hypersensitive’s immune system responds to. If you are a Hypersensitive, certain substances trigger reactions in your body, yet most other people’s bodies don’t react at all to those substances.
Wearing or touching wool makes you itchy and/or gives you hives.
Trigger: contact with wool
Hypersensitivity Reaction: itching and/or hives
When you drink milk, you get an upset stomach.
Hypersensitivity Reaction: stomach upset
When your friends wear too much perfume or aftershave, it gives you a headache.
Hypersensitivity Reaction: headache
I once had a friend who persisted in wearing perfume with me in the car, even though I kept telling her it made me sick. She simply didn’t believe me.
The people who disbelieve Hypersensitives will get a surprise some day. As our air is packed with more and more smog, our reservoirs are loaded with more and more of the chemicals people flush into the sewers, and our food is made with more and more additives (all potential hypersensitivity triggers), human beings are becoming more and more hypersensitive.
The tags on the back of your shirts drive you crazy.
Trigger: contact with small pieces of material
Hypersensitivity Reaction: itching so bad it drives you crazy
Exhaust fumes make you carsick.
Trigger: exhaust fumes
Hypersensitivity Reaction: nausea, headache, and more
When you drink coffee, you get sharp, scary pains in your stomach.
Hypersensitivity Reaction: damaged stomach lining
Have you even met anyone who can’t drink coffee? I haven’t, though I can’t drink it myself. That goes to show how rare a hypersensitivity can be.
The immune system detects bacteria and viruses that enter your body, but I don’t consider bacteria and viruses to be hypersensitivity triggers. The immune system is just doing its job: trying to prevent disease. It’s when the immune system reacts to substances that aren’t dangerous at all—soap, coffee, milk, etc.—that hypersensitivities are involved. Soap, coffee, milk, etc., are hypersensitivity triggers to which the immune system might react. Bacteria and viruses are not.
Each writer describes hypersensitivities a different way:
- extreme physical sensitivity
- exaggerated immune response
- undesirable or inappropriate immune response
- an over-reaction of the immune system
The bottom line: the immune system reacts to harmful substances (hypersensitivity triggers) as if they were dangerous and tries to destroy them, creating itching, pain, stomach upset, and harm to the body in the process.
Dr. Jean M. Bradt
Ph.D., Psychology, Loyola University of Chicago, 1988