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What are allergies?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Allergies occur as a result of your immune system overreacting to a foreign substance. In an effort to protect your body, your immune system attacks foreign invaders and harmful substances. In some cases, however, your immune system mistakenly attacks a harmless substance, which produces an allergic reaction.

The skin is the body's largest organ, and normally it helps keep "good stuff" like nutrients and water in, and keeps "bad stuff" like bacteria out. Sometimes, however, certain substances may cause an abnormal immune response in the skin, either through physical contact or as a result of ingesting something. This kind of reaction is known as skin allergies, which include any kind of reaction to something that results in a rash, hives, blisters or other skin irritations. Skin allergies are affected by Langerhans' cells, which are special cells found in the epidermis (the outermost layer of skin) that are part of the skin's immune system. Normally, these cells help defend the body against infection, but sometimes they can be part of the development of skin allergies. The classification of "skin allergies" may include dermatitis (eczema), lichen planus and various types of rashes or hives.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.