Bumps, Itching, Sneezing and Hormones

By: Red Hot Mamas

Published: May 26, 2010

Written by Menopause Minute® Editors

Not only am I an insomniac with a hot flash problem, but recently, I find myself sneezing and itching more than usual. What is going on? After some complaining and discussion with my doctor, I found out this is a common question for peri-post menopausal women.

So, what exactly is an allergy?  An allergy is a reaction of the immune system which is responding to certain substances called allergens. Most allergens are harmless to non-allergic people, but in allergic people they can produce serious immune system reactions.  The severity of an allergic reaction may depend on the type of allergen, the level of exposure and each individual’s immune response.

When an allergic person’s immune system encounters an allergen, it may cause an increase in the production of IgE antibody in their body.  IgE antibodies cause cells to release a chemical called histamines into the bloodstream. Histamine is responsible for the symptoms that you may feel (stuffy nose, itchy eyes, etc.), when you have an allergic reaction.  Also, this is why antihistamine drugs are used to control the symptoms of allergy.

As more medical professionals further their research in the occurrence of allergies at menopause, it may be helpful for you to understand the link between the two.  

The Hormone – Allergy Connection
Hormones play an important role within our body’s immune system. As a woman experiences hormonal fluctuations during menopause, it may compromise her immune system, making her more susceptible to suffer ailments that she may have never suffered before, including allergies. 

Many women report that they experience symptoms of allergies for the first time in their lives as they approach menopause.  Mild to severe allergic symptoms can even appear for the first time during menopause.

Common allergens include pet dander, pollen, dust mites, molds and certain types of foods. But almost anything can cause an allergy in a person. Some allergic reactions may appear in the form of a rash, acne, rosacea, psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, eye discomfort, congestion, sneezing, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, mental confusion, hives, and in rare cases anyphylaxis shock.

One reason for hormonally-driven fluctuations in allergies and asthma is a reduction in cortisol (an immune regulator and anti-inflammatory agent). When this occurs, the body compensates by producing more adrenalin, causing inflammation and hence, an increase in allergic and asthma symptoms.

Can Hormone Therapy (HT) Help Allergies?
Although some studies show that HT can worsen asthma, in some women, HT actually can improve asthma. Studies have produced mixed results, resulting in a lack of consensus.

As we all know, during menopause, estrogen and progesterone levels decline. Some researchers believe these hormonal changes can really exacerbate an allergy and asthma. According to Dr. Francisco Gomez Real of the University of Bergen in Norway, “Asthma risks double during menopause.”  Dr. Real’s research suggests the women who go through menopause have nearly, “…double the risk of suffering respiratory diseases such as asthma, but could protect themselves by taking hormone therapy."

On the other hand, an ongoing Harvard Nurses’ Health Study found that women on HT for ten years or more years are twice more likely to develop asthma than women who never used HT. The use of HT in this study actually made asthma symptoms worse for menopausal women, causing inflammation that precipitated symptoms of adult-onset asthma. The risk of asthma increased with the use of high doses and longer use of estrogen.
Overall, keep in mind that although HT use in the women increased their incidence of asthma, the overall chance of developing asthma is very low, only about 1 percent or less. And the risk applies only to women who have gone through natural menopause and not those who have had their ovaries removed through surgery.

Controlling Asthma and Allergies
Without a doubt, the role of hormones and allergies is a complex issue with more research needed. We can all agree that women’s bodies react differently to hormonal fluctuations. For this reason, if you are experiencing allergic symptoms, an allergist may be able to help you. Treatments can vary from lifestyle changes to alternative therapies and prescription medications. Finding out what you are specifically allergic to is most helpful. Discuss your symptoms with your healthcare provider.

Glossary of Allergy Terms  from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

Allergen: A substance that triggers an allergic reaction.

Allergic rhinitis: An allergy affecting the mucus membrane of the nose. Seasonal allergic rhinitis is often called "hay fever."

Allergies: A chronic disease characterized by an overreaction of the immune system to protein substances — either inhaled, ingested, touched or injected — that normally do not cause an overreaction in non-allergic people.

Allergist: A doctor that diagnoses, treats, and manages allergy-related conditions.

Anaphylaxis: A life-threatening allergic reaction that involves the entire body. Anaphylaxis may result in shock or death, and thus requires immediate medical attention

Animal dander: The small scales or pieces of skin, often containing proteins secreted by oil glands, which are shed by an animal. These proteins are the major causes of allergies to pets.

Antibiotics: A class of medications used to treat bacterial infections. Certain antibiotics, such as penicillin, may cause an allergic reaction in some people.

Antibody: A protein in the immune system that recognizes and attacks foreign substances in the body.

Antihistamines: A class of medications used to block the action of histamines in the body and prevent the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Allergic asthma: A chronic, inflammatory disorder of the airways characterized by wheezing, breathing difficulties, coughing, chest tightness, wherein these symptoms are caused by an allergic reaction to an inhaled allergen, rather than an irritant or other non-allergy factor. (See "non-allergic asthma" for more information.)

Atopic dermatitis: A chronic skin rash, also known as "eczema," that often appears in the first few years of life.

Basophil: An immune system cell that attaches to antibodies and circulates through out the blood.

Beta-blockers: A class of blood pressure medications that ease the heart’s pumping action and widen the blood vessels. Beta-blockers counteract the effects of epinephrine used for emergency treatment of anaphylactic shock and should not be used during immunotherapy.

Bronchial tubes: The lower sections of the airway that lead into the lungs.

Challenge test: A test used to confirm an allergy to specific substance. A doctor will administer small but increasing amounts of a suspected allergen until an allergic response is noticed. Due to the risk of anaphylaxis, this should only be perfor
med under a controlled setting.

Conjunctivitis: Inflammation of the conjunctiva, or the mucous membrane surrounding the eye. Also known as pinkeye.

Contact dermatitis: An allergic reaction resulting from skin contact to an allergen.

Corticosteroid: An anti-inflammatory medication used to treat the itching and swelling associated with some allergic reactions.

Cromolym sodium: An anti-inflammatory nasal spray used to treat and sometimes prevent allergic rhinitis.

Decongestants: A class of medications used for nasal congestion. Decongestants are available in oral doses, nasal sprays, or eye drops (for conjunctivitis).

Drug allergies: A chronic disease characterized by an overreaction of the immune system in some people to certain types of medications such as penicillin, aspirin, etc.

Dust mites: A microscopic organism that lives in dust.

Eczema: See Atopic dermatitis.

Eosinophil: A specific type of immune cell that can cause tissue damage in the late phase of an allergic reaction.

Epinepherine: A medication used for immediate treatment of anaphylaxis by raising blood pressure and heart rate back to normal levels. Epinepherine is also known as adrenaline.

EpiPen: A device used to inject epinephrine during an anaphylaxis attack.

Eye allergies: A chronic disease characterized by an overreaction of the immune system to protiens get into the eye (also called "allergic conjunctivitis).

Food allergies: A chronic disease characterized by an overreaction of the immune system to food protiens.

Heparin: A chemical released by basophils and mast cells that causes nearby tissues to become swollen and inflamed.

Histamine: A chemical released by basophils and mast cells that causes nearby tissues to become swollen and inflamed.

Hives: See urticaria.

Immunoglobulin E (IgE): A type of antibody responsible for most allergic reactions.

Immunotherapy: A series of shots that help build up the immune system’s tolerance to an allergen.

Indoor allergies: A chronic disease characterized by an overreaction of the immune system to certain proteins found inside, such as mold spores, pet dander, cockroach or dust mite allergen, etc. (also called "perennial allergies").

Insect allergies: A chronic disease characterized by an overreaction of the immune system to certain insect proteins such as venom from stinking or biting insects (bees, wasps, ants, spiders), or even allergens from cockroaches and dust mites.

Insulin: A hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. Diabetics who take insulin derived from animals may have allergic reactions.

Intradermal test: A test where an allergen is injected just underneath the skin. Intradermal tests are generally used when results from a skin prick test are unclear.
Late phase: The period 4 to 24 hours after exposure to an allergen where tissue damage may occur.

Latex allergies: A chronic disease characterized by an overreaction of the immune system to latex proteins found in many rubber or latex products. Latex allergies may occur due to touching latex or even inhaling latex dust.

Leukotriene modifiers: A class of medications used in asthma and allergies to block the action of leukotrienes in the body and prevent the common symptoms of an allergic reactions and asthma.

Lymphocyte: A specific type of immune cell that can cause tissue damage in the late phase of an allergic reaction.

Mast cell: An immune system cell which attaches to antibodies and is located in the tissue that lines the nose, bronchial tubes, gastrointestinal tract, and the skin.

Neocromil sodium: An inhaled medication used to treat inflammation involved with asthma.

Neutrophil: A specific type of immune cell that can cause tissue damage in the late phase of an allergic reaction.

Otitis media: A middle ear infection. Otitis media with effusion occurs when fluid builds up within the ear.

Outdoor allergies: A chronic disease characterized by an overreaction of the immune system to certain proteins found outside, such as tree/grass/weed pollen, mold spores, stinging insects, poisonous plants, etc. (also called "hay fever," "nasal allergies," or "seasonal allergies").

Radioallergosorbant test (RAST): A blood test that measures the amount of IgE antibody produced when the sample is mixed with a specific allergen.

Rhinitis: An inflammation of the nasal passageways, particularly with discharge.

Sinusitis: An inflammation or infection of one or more sinuses. The sinuses are hollow air spaces located around the nose and eyes.

Skin allergies: A chronic disease characterized by an overreaction of the immune system to certain proteins that come in contact with the skin (often appears as a rash, eczema, etc.). Also, "skin" allergies may refer to other types of allergies and have symptoms which appear on the skin causing hives, eczema, psoriasis, etc.

Skin prick test: A test where a needle is used to scratch the skin with a small amount of allergen. A response can usually be seen within 15 to 20 minutes.

Urticaria: Raised areas of the skin that are often red, warm, and itchy. Urticaria is also known as hives.

Urushiol: An oil found on poison ivy, oak, and sumac.

For More Information:
Take a Deep Breath, Red Hot Mamas; Menopause and Asthma
Eye Concerns
Dr. Oz Discusses Asthma and Allergies on Discovery Health

References:
"Adult Onset of Asthma." Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. 2005. Web. 13 Oct 2009. <http://www.aafa.org/display.cfm?id=8⊂=16&cont=36>.

"Allergies Symptom Information." 34 Menopause Symptoms. Web. 13 Oct 2009. <http://www.34-menopause-symptoms.com/allergies.htm>.

Dzung Price, Dr "Can Hormone Balancing Improve Allergies Or Asthma?." Can Hormone Balancing Improve Allergies Or Asthma?. 1 Sep. 2009. EzineArticles.com. 13 Oct 2009 <http://www.ezinearticles.com/?Can-Hormone-Balancing-Improve-Allergies-Or-Asthma?&id=2851824>.

"Section E: Disease Risk." 161, Menopause Practice: A Clinician’s Guide. 3rd ed. Cleveland, OH: The North American Menopause Society, 2007. Print.

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