Both autoimmune disease and allergies come about because of an overactive immune response. Hyperimmune responses are characterized by the immune system attacking seemingly harmless substances in the environment. This is dangerous because the immune system can focus its energy on combating the perceived threat, resulting in symptoms like rash or inflamed sinuses. Times in which symptoms are present in result of these inflammatory responses are sometimes called “flare ups” or simply “flares”.
Allergy flare-ups have a few major differences from autoimmune flares.
So, what’s the difference?
The easiest way to tell if you might be experiencing allergy symptoms or that of an autoimmune disease is to pay attention to the triggers of your flare up episodes. Allergies respond to external factors such as dust or pollen that the immune system sees as an attack on the body. Autoimmune conditions, however respond to internal triggers that the immune system mistakes as a foreign substance, even though they are normal and essential in the body’s function. In Lupus patients, for example, certain organs including the lungs, brain, heart, blood vessels, or nervous system get attacked by the immune system, resulting in different symptoms such as a butterfly rash (a rash across the bridge of the nose and the cheeks), sunlight sensitivity, fever, inflammation of the joints, etc.
Technically speaking, the reactive mechanisms in the body are very different as well when comparing an allergic reaction to an autoimmune flare up. The specific immunological pathways activated in an allergic reaction to release histamine, are different from the pathways in which an autoimmune response is triggered.
The last major difference between autoimmune diseases, and allergies involve the environmental substances that trigger a flare-up. Allergen triggers can be readily identified with lab tests, and treatments can be effectively determined. In autoimmune conditions, there is not yet a complete understanding of the diseases, making it much harder to diagnose and treat. As a result, the treatment plans for patients with an autoimmune disease tends to be much more broad, in order to cast a wide net over the different functions of the body that may be reacting or responsible.