Updated: Mar 7
Allergies are an adverse response by your immune system to a substance such as certain foods, house dust mites, animals and pollen (hay fever). For the majority of people these substances are harmless, but the immune system of an allergy sufferer treats them as a threat and responds accordingly.
Symptoms are usually mild and start within a few minutes of contact with the allergen. They can include:
Watery, itchy eyes
Runny or blocked nose
Wheezing & coughing
Itchy rash / hives
Sickness & diarrhoea
In extreme circumstances, someone may experience a severe reaction called anaphylactic shock. This is a medical emergency and you should dial 999. They may have some of the common signs of allergy and also:
Swollen eyes, lips, hands, feet, mouth, throat or tongue which can cause breathing and swallowing difficulties.
Feeling light headed or faint
Collapse & unconsciousness
You should call an ambulance immediately if someone goes into anaphylactic shock. If they have a known severe allergy, they may carry adrenaline with them, in which case, this should be used first, before calling 999. Allergy UK state this is given as an injection into the upper outer muscle of the thigh and is a safe treatment when administered this way. You can find more information about what to do in the event of anaphylactic shock on their website.
It is thought that 1 in 4 people in the UK have been affected by an allergy at some point in their lives, and they are most common in children. Many people grow out of childhood allergies, but some never do and some adults develop allergies later in life.
There are many different allergies, but some of the most common culprits include pollen, house dust mites, food, mould, insects, pets/furry animals, medicines, latex and household chemicals such as those in hair dye or cleaning products. It is not known why some people develop allergies whilst others don’t.
If you think you have an allergy, you should visit your GP. Some symptoms can be caused by other conditions which they will help to rule out. If your allergy is mild there are ways to manage the condition and symptoms which your GP will discuss with you. These may include medications and creams designed to reduce the effects of the allergy, although it is unlikely your allergy will be ‘cured’. Avoiding the allergen is the most effective way of managing symptoms in most cases. If your allergy is more severe or complicated, you may be referred to a specialist for some tests and more detailed advice.