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Article by Sarah Hamilton-Walker | 1st April 2018

Action on Allergies

With an estimated 21 million of us living with an allergy, we look at common allergies and symptoms.

This year’s Allergy Awareness Week runs from 23rd-29th April and the theme is travelling with allergy. The event is organised annually by Allergy UK, the leading national charity dedicated to supporting those with allergies (www.allergyuk.org).

It is estimated that 21 million people in the UK live with allergic disease, and they are thought to affect more than one in four people at some point in their lives. Put simply, an allergy is the response of the body’s immune system to normally harmless substances, such as pollens, foods, and house dust mite. Whilst in most people these substances (allergens) pose no problem, in allergic individuals their immune system identifies them as a ‘threat’ and produces an inappropriate response.

The most common causes of allergic reactions are:

• Grass and tree pollen – an allergy to these is known as hay fever (allergic rhinitis).
• Proteins secreted from house dust mites.
• Mould – these can release small particles into the air that you can breathe in.
• Foods particularly nuts, fruit, shellfish, eggs or cow’s milk.
• Insects bites and stings, such as wasps and bees.
• Medication, including ibuprofen, aspirin, and certain antibiotics.
• Household chemicals, including those
in detergents and hair dyes.
• Pets such as cats and dogs, and other furry or hairy animals such as horses, rabbits and guinea pigs.

Common allergies & symptoms

Allergies are particularly common in children. Some allergies go away as a child gets older, although many are life-long. Adults can develop allergies to things they weren’t previously allergic to.

Having an allergy can be a nuisance and affect your everyday activities, but most allergic reactions are mild and can be largely kept under control. Severe reactions can occasionally occur, but these are uncommon.

When a person comes into contact with a particular allergen they are allergic to, a reaction occurs usually with a few minutes. This begins when the allergen (for example, pollen) enters the body, triggering an antibody response. When the allergen comes into contact with the antibodies, these cells respond by releasing certain substances, one of which is called histamine. These substances cause swelling, inflammation and itching of the surrounding tissues, which is extremely irritating and uncomfortable.

Most allergic reactions are mild, but occasionally a severe reaction, called anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock, can occur. This is a medical emergency and needs urgent treatment.

Common symptoms of an allergic reaction include:

• Sneezing.
• Wheezing and coughing.
• A runny or blocked nose.
• A red, itchy rash/hives.
• Swelling.
• Itchy eyes, ears, lips throat and mouth.

Diagnosing an allergy

The first step in managing an allergy is identifying the cause(s) of the problem. Diagnosing an allergy can be difficult since the symptoms may be similar to other conditions.

If you think you may be allergic to something and do not know what it is, you should start to keep a record of your symptoms. In particular, the following information may help your doctor make a diagnosis:

• Do your symptoms occur at any particular time of the day?
• Do you only get symptoms at certain times of the year?
• Do you suffer more at night-time or during the day?
• Do your symptoms occur when you are in the house as well as outside?
• Does exposure to animals/pets bring on your symptoms?
• Do you think that any food or drink brings on your symptoms?
• Do the symptoms occur every time you come into contact with the allergen?
• Do your symptoms improve when you are on holiday?

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