How this course works

Welcome and thank you for enrolling in our course ‘Allergies: When the Immune System Backfires’. We are very much looking forward to working with you over the next three weeks. In this article you will learn how this course is organized and meet the lead educator Professor Andreas J. Bircher who will accompany you during this journey through the immune system. Please also note the question at the end of this step.

What provokes an allergy? What types of allergic reactions do we distinguish and what are the underlying mechanisms? What are the typical clinical manifestations of each type and how do we best recognize, diagnose and treat them? These and more questions will be answered by Professor Andreas J. Bircher during the coming three weeks.

Course topics

Let us first have a look at how this course is organized and at what questions or issues will be addressed during each week.

Week 1: Allergy – the history of misunderstanding

In the first week, we address some of the events, mishaps, and discoveries in history, that lead to our modern understanding of the immune system. Indeed, it was mostly due to the development of vaccinations and remedies against eliciting culprits of major epidemics that researchers in the early 20th century could shed light on the mechanisms underlying our immune defence. After this historical excursus, the most relevant components of the immune system, the network that lies behind it and the components that interact are introduced. Towards the end of the week, Professor Andreas J. Bircher, takes you on a tour through an imaginary medieval castle, which – through a metaphorical approach – will allow you to more easily memorize the various introduced defence lines of our immune system.

Week 2: Immediate type mechanism – clinical allergic disorders

In the second week, we introduce Coombs and Gell’s widely known classification system of allergies. We then start by having a closer look at immediate type – or type I – allergic reactions. You will learn more about the most common allergen carrier groups – including insect venom, respiratory and food allergens – and the mechanism underlying this reaction type. Finally, Professor Andreas J. Bircher shows how to diagnose immediate type allergic reactions and what possible therapeutic approaches there are. Moreover, emergency medications in case of a severe, life-threatening anaphylactic reaction are summarized.

Week 3: Eczema and drug hypersensitivity

In the third week, two further types of allergic reactions are introduced: Contact dermatitis (or eczema) and drug hypersensitivities. For both types, the most relevant allergen carriers, the underlying mechanisms, and the typical manifestations or symptoms are discussed. Moreover, Andreas J. Bircher shows why diagnosing contact dermatitis and drug hypersensitivities is so challenging and what approaches may help to rule out other diagnoses and identify the true culprit.

Your lead educator

Your lead educator, Professor Andreas J. Bircher, and his crew, consisting of Niklas Trottmann and Ulla Schmid, will guide you through this course. Mentoring will take place from 30th September 2019 to 21st October 2019.

Important references

Should you be new to this field of medicine, there might be some basic medical nomenclature which you have to understand to follow this course. We will guide you through the different concepts and introduce each term step by step. If you would still like to look up some medical terms, you’ll find a lot of helpful glossaries online – a first example you’ll find here, a second here, and a third here.

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This article is from the free online course:

Allergies: When the Immune System Backfires

University of Basel