What is the difference between inflammation and hypersensitivity?
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Inflammation is a condition in our bodies that occurs in the face of infection, trauma including burns, autoimmune attacks, cancer, and allergic (hypersensitivity) reactions. The hallmark symptom complex of inflammation is swelling, redness and pain. Histologically, the inflammatory response is distinguished as acute and chronic by the type of inflammatory or white blood cells that are predominant in the reaction around the offending agent or cause. Acute infections, by polymorphonuclear white blood cells, (pus cells) seen in appendicitis, sinusitis, cellulitis, dermatitis, etc and chronic infections by lymphocytes, monocytes, plasma cells, such as seen in tuberculosis, leprosy, sarcoidosis, etc.
Hypersensitivity is specific to substances or conditions that are not tolerated normally by our bodies, whether to sun exposure, gluten, insect bites, allergic reactions including drugs, blood type incompatibility, etc. Most hypersensitivity are mild but some may be severe and fatal. An interesting example is exercise induced asthma. Substances such as histamine and neurotransmitters may be produced and accumulate in excess in our bodies. Exercise and cold exposure, by stimulating specific histamine producing cells that line the airway, causes bronchoconstriction, wheezing, and a typical asthma attack. An imbalance of neurotransmitters may cause exaggerated responses to normal stimuli, such migraine, muscle spastic conditions, irritable bowel syndrome, even mood disorders.
There is significant overlap of both conditions. Inflammation causes swelling which stretches the surrounding nerves and causes a hypersensitivity pain response to touch for example. Hypersensitivity may result in a typical inflammatory response histologically but occasionally a hypersensitivity or allergic reaction may be suspected by the presence of excessive eosinophils, a type of white blood cells that is more specific for allergic and hypersensitivity reactions.
Q: “What is hypersensitivity like?”
A person is hypersensitive when they cannot ignore an input to one or more senses.
It is usually possible for people to sit in an office and do their own work. Sometimes they are distracted by excessive noise from others. It is possible to block out some noise and maintain concentration. People who are hypersensitive to noise (which is common among those on the Autism spectrum) have to take additional measures to maintain concentration with an average level of background noise. These measures may include ear plugs or music in headphones.
In more extreme cases, a person’s whole train of thought and executive function can be disturbed by the incoming sensation. If a person covers their ears and runs away then that might be a noise-triggered meltdown.
Even for people with less sensitivity it may be necessary to withdraw to a quiet place in order to recharge their tolerance of being with others.
Hypersensitivity can occur with any of the senses or with the sensation of being crowded. Common symptoms may be a response to flashing lights or bright sunlight, noise level or rhythm, overwhelming smells or tastes, unauthorised touching even on accepted areas, or the perceived threat of touching from close proximity. In some cases the sensitivities may relate to phobias; in others they may be a symptom of a recognised mental health condition or disability.
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What an interesting question about two closely-related subjects!
You see, Hypersensitivity is a much broader term, which refers to an exaggerated reaction of the immune system when faced with an antigen (which may be endogenous or exogenous), often causing disease and discomfort. I would like to emphasize that for hypersensitivity to occur, it is necessary that the immune system involved has, beforehand, been exposed and sensitized to said antigen (this is, hypersensitivity will only occur from the second exposure onwards, after an “immunity” has already been built)
Now, as you likely know, the immune system follows two main mechanisms: one mediated mainly by antibodies (or Immunoglobulins, Ig for short) and that of cell-mediated response. That being said, the Ig involved (IgE, IgG or IgM, mostly) and the cells involved will determine the underlying mechanism of hypersensitivity, as well as the manifestations the patient will suffer. This justifies a wide array of Hypersensitivity Reactions.
Thankfully, R. Coombs and P. Gell created the Coombs and Gell classification for hypersensitivity, thus facilitating the study and discussion of the five different ways hypersensitivity may occur.
Here’s where allergy comes in.
Allergies are simply a kind of hypersensitivity, one could say, a smaller term included within a broader one. Specifically, when a hypersensitivity reaction occurs in a very fast manner (minutes) and is mostly mediated by Inmunogloblin E (IgE) we are talking about an Allergy or a Type I Hypersensitivity Reaction. This is the case for Asthma and Atopy, for example.
If you’re interested in a more profound explanation, i would suggest Kuby’s Immunology book, which i find simply amazing!
Inflammation (from Latin: inflammatio) is part of the complex biological response of body tissues to harmful stimuli, such as pathogens, damaged cells, or irritants and is a protective response involving immune cells, blood vessels, and molecular mediators. The function of inflammation is to eliminate the initial cause of cell injury, clear out necrotic cells and tissues damaged from the original insult and the inflammatory process, and initiate tissue repair.
Clinically inflammation is characterised by following clinical symptoms: rubor (redness), tumor (swelling), calor (increase heat), dolor (pain), functio laese (loss of function).
Irritation, in biology and physiology, is a state of inflammation or painful reaction to allergy or cell-lining damage. A stimulus or agent which induces the state of irritation is an irritant. Irritants are typically thought of as chemical agents (for example phenol and capsaicin) but mechanical, thermal (heat), and radiative stimuli (for example ultraviolet light or ionising radiations) can also be irritants. Irritation also has non-clinical usages referring to bothersome physical or psychological pain or discomfort.
To completely explain this would take a lot of space, so I’m going to summarize:
An immune reaction is a response to the perception of danger by the human immune system. It includes an interlocking set of responses wherein innate mechanisms (basic responses triggered by pattern recognition of signs of pathogens and other threats) cooperate with antibody production and T-cell attack.
Inflammation encompasses the overall up-regulation of the immune system. It can be local or systemic, acute or chronic. It is necessary to bring in a protective immune response but can also linger and do unnecessary damage or even set off an autoimmune disease. Excess inflammation is also associated with cancer, although there is discussion on what is cause and what is effect.
Hypersensitivity is a term used to describe an immune response that is misdirected (toward something harmless or even your own body). Hypersensitivity is classically divided into four categories, but in my personal opinion, this leaves out possibilities and variations. Hypersensitivity involves defense mechanisms that are necessary and helpful under the right circumstances and possibly even lethal if they attack the wrong thing or become excessive.
I cover these concepts over several lectures in my on-line Fundamentals of Immunology series on Coursera. You can get a free preview by registering at Coursera | Build Skills with Online Courses from Top Institutions and search for Rice University, Immunology and Novotny. I cover most of the background of this answer in Course 3, lecture 2 (inflammation), 3 ( tolerance), 4 (autoimmunity), and 5 (hypersensitivity). Interactions between adaptive and innate immune upregulation are found in the first two courses, generally as part of more complex discussions. I cover Cancer in the very last lecture of Course 4.
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Inflammation is the body’s response to tissue damage. Unless death occurs, inflammation is always followed by repair.
Infection is the infiltration and subsequent destruction of body tissue by microorganisms—be they bacteria, fungi, parasites or viruses. This is not to be confused with the non-infiltrative colonization of commensal organisms, such as seen by certain beneficial bacteria in the colon.
Allergy is an exaggerated immune response to contact with a foreign substance, which may be something ingested (peanut allergy), inhaled (pollen and dander) or touched (poison ivy). The immune response causes tissue swelling as seen in something as innocuous as hives or something as fatal as narrowing of the respiratory passages by surrounding bloated tissue. Although by itself asthma is not an allergy, it may be triggered by an allergic reaction.
Curiously, I do not react to poison ivy, but after years of wearing latex gloves, my skin has developed an immune response to talc. This is fairly common in the medical community, and most gloves now are powder free.
I have hypersensitivity in both my feet, they aren’t as bad as they used to be though.
About 4 years ago, I was admitted into hospital with an auto-immune disorder called Guillain-Barré syndrome. I was in agony, I had never felt pain like it. I had been suffering for days with a deep throbbing pain in both legs and I had started falling over every time I tried to walk. I had already been sent home twice from the hospital only days earlier because no one could figure out what was wrong with me. The second time, I stayed for 1 night because I had over dosed on Paracetamol trying to cope with my mystery pain so my liver function wasn’t going too well.
Guillain-Barré syndrome can vary in symptoms from person to person. For example, during my 3 month hospital stay, I was in a room with a woman who also had it, but she felt no pain, she felt nothing, it temporarily paralysed her from the waist down.
Basically, what happens is, your body starts attacking itself. Your immune system can become confused by a virus entering your body. It could be any virus, sometimes you don’t even know you have one. My immune system attacked my nerves, starting from my feet and working it’s way up. If I didn’t get diagnosed in time and given the plasma I needed to stop it, I would have suffocated and died when it reached my lungs, my pain had reached my lower back when they started the plasma drip. Within an hour, the pain started to subside, I was so relieved.
The next day, was a total different story. The pain I felt in both my feet and ankles was hard to describe. They were burning, the best way I could describe it was, when you try to put your freezing cold foot into a really hot bath but multiply the intensity by 10. It was constant, I was on so many pain medications, I was like a zombie, I was taking up to 40 pills a day but still never managing to sleep longer than 15 minutes at a time. It had also caused drop foot in both my ankles so I couldn’t walk anyway.
But the hypersensitivity it caused was horrendous, there is no pain like nerve pain. Just a sheet lying across my feet caused me to cry in pain. When I was being pushed in my wheelchair, I would brace myself in anticipation for the pain I would feel going over each and every bump. The worst part was, every single day, multiple doctors that were treating me, needed to physically examine my hypersensitive feet. I would cry in pain as they moved my toes around and pushed on my feet. It was excruciating.
As the nerves have healed over the last few years, the hypersensitivity has improved a lot, but I still have it, along with constant pins and needles in both feet. If I step on something hard, the pain literally drops me, my bare foot summer days are definitely over.
Allergies are a type of hypersensitivity involving IgE, one of several human immune factors. Other hypersensitivities involve other Ig factors. Thus, hypersensitivity, including allergies, are a misfunction of the immune system where it mistakes an innocuous substance or even a part of the body as a dangerous invader.
You can read more about it at:
You may be thinking of sensitivities. If so, an allergy is a reaction by multiple organ systems while a sensitivity only involves one. For example, a sensitivity to peanuts affects only the digestive system. An allergy to peanuts involves hives (skin), throut swelling (mucus membranes), anaphylactic shock that causes a drop in blood pressure, and difficulty breathing because the lungs are filling with water (pulmonary system).
“What is the difference between inflammation, fever, hypersensitivity type I, anaphylaxis, and allergy?”
All of these terms pertain to activities of the immune system.
- Allergy: “a damaging immune response by the body to a substance, especially pollen, fur, a particular food, or dust, to which it has become hypersensitive.”
- Anaphylaxis: “an acute allergic reaction to an antigen (e.g., a bee sting) to which the body has become hypersensitive.”
- Fever: “an abnormally high body temperature, usually accompanied by shivering, headache, and in severe instances, delirium.” 
- Hypersensitivity Type 1: “Type I hypersensitivity (or immediate hypersensitivity) is an allergic reaction provoked by reexposure to a specific type of antigen referred to as an allergen.”
- Inflammation: “a localized physical condition in which part of the body becomes reddened, swollen, hot, and often painful, especially as a reaction to injury or infection”. Inflammation may be systemic as well as local  .
An allergy is an immediate (type 1) hypersensitivity reaction mediated by the immune system chemical known as immunoglobulin E or IgE.
Anaphylaxis is an extreme physiological response arising from a type 1 hypersensitivity.
Fever may be part of the systemic inflammatory response to infection.
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In immunology The term hypersensitivity refers to those inappropriate immunological reactions, which rather than contributing to recovery, themselves produce tissue damage and forms an important and sometimes, a major part of the disease process. Hypersensitivity reactions can be provoked by many antigens; the cause of hypersensitivity reaction will vary from one individual to the next. Hypersensitivity is not manifested in first contact with the antigen, but usually appears on subsequent contact.
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