Ask Ms. Scientist: Dizziness and allergies

What causes dizziness?

John F.

Spinning round and round in a desk chair or a carnival ride almost always makes your head spin, your eyes flutter and your stomach churn in the most uncomfortable of ways. Try walking after riding the Tilt-a-Whirl and you’ll find yourself traveling in a strange, turpentine path, because you’re just so dizzy! But, its all in your head —literally. The body has a complex system that alerts the brain of motion and perception. The vestibular system is responsible for sensing motion. In the inner ear, there are three semicircular canals that sense motion. They contain a fluid called endolymph and hair-like sensory nerve cells. When the head moves in a direction, the fluid moves within the canals. Depending on which direction the fluid moves, it stimulates the hair-like nerves and signals the brain telling it which way the head is moving. When you spin, the liquid moves in a circular direction matching your spin. When you stop, the fluid continues to spin and your brain interprets this as continued spinning or dizziness.

How do allergies work?

Megan P.

Allergies are probably one of my least favorite things about spring. All I want to do is go outside and enjoy the weather after the long Wisconsin winters, but my allergies always give me a stuffy nose, sneezes and itchy eyes. No one is exactly certain why allergies start in the first place, though environmental and genetic factors are thought to play a role in it. However, we do know how they happen. An allergy is basically your immune system reacting sensitively to something that isn’t actually harmful to your body. Normally, in response to actual bacteria or viruses, your immune system releases something called antibodies that activate the inflammatory response to fight off infection. This is why when you get sick or infected, you might develop an itchy nose or a rash. However, sometimes your immune system identifies harmless allergens, such as pollen or peanut butter, as threats, causing it to activate your inflammatory response even though you don’t need it, resulting in those classic allergy symptoms.

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