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What are...histamines?

If you’re like many allergy sufferers, you’ve probably taken antihistamines to control your symptoms. What you may not realize is that these medications target histamines, or chemicals made by your immune system that help your body eliminate allergens, and end up setting off pesky allergic reactions like sneezing. Here’s how they work.

The basics of histamines

Part of the body’s defense system, histamines detect the presence of allergy triggers like pollen and dust. But they also interpret those allergens as potentially harmful and, as a result, can overreact.

Specifically, when your immune system senses allergens, it signals “mast cells” in your skin, nose and other places to release histamines. Then, those trusty histamines increase the blood flow in affected areas, causing inflammation. Inflammation, in turn, signals other chemicals to step in. If you breathe in, say, pollen, histamines will cause your body to make more mucus, causing all sorts of unpleasant reactions.

Fast facts

  • Histamines can be found in some insect venom
  • The name is derived from the Greek word “histos,” meaning tissue
  • Histamine was discovered in 1910 by Dr. Henry H. Dale, the winner of the 1936 Nobel Prize in medicine
  • In the brain, it plays a key role in the sleep-wake cycle, appetite, motivation, learning, memory, and sexual behavior
  • In the blood, histamine has a lifespan of a few minutes

Clear the air

  • See an allergy specialist to find out what allergens are causing your histamines to act up and how to minimize your exposure
  • Take antihistamines if you suffer from allergies
  • Try to keep windows closed during seasons when your allergy triggers are particularly active
  • If you have a yard, make sure it’s filled with allergy-friendly plants
  • Use a smart air purifier with a HEPA filter, like Coway Airmega