Allergies refer to a reaction your body has to a specific substance or food. They are common and affect, regularly or periodically, approximately a quarter of people living in the UK. For some people, particularly children, allergies will disappear in time. However, for many they are life-long and symptoms need to be carefully managed.

Facts about Allergies

  • Approximately 25% of people in the UK will experience an allergic reaction at some point in their lives
  • Children are particularly prone to allergies
  • Yet, adults can suddenly develop an allergy to a substance or food that wasn’t present before
  • Allergies usually cause mild symptoms, but they can be severe in some cases
  • There is no cure as such for allergies, only treatments to manage symptoms
  • Avoidance is the best way to combat allergies, although this isn’t always possible
  • There is a difference between allergies, sensitivities and intolerances

Symptoms of an allergic reaction

Certain substances cause an allergic reaction in some people, where their immune system believes the substance is a threat to you.

Reactions vary in their nature, and in terms of their severity but they often occur quickly as the body spurs into action to protect against exposure to an allergen.

What type of symptoms you experience is largely linked to the substance you are allergic to; rashes are linked to substances your skin comes in contact with compared to nose and chest symptoms are linked to substances you breathe in.

Common symptoms of an allergic reaction include:

  • Blocked nose
  • Sneezing
  • Watery or itchy eyes
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Rashes, that may be red and itchy
  • Dry, cracked and red skin
  • Enhanced symptoms of asthma
  • Enhanced symptoms of eczema
  • Swollen lips, tongue, eyes or face
  • Tummy pain, feeling sick, diarrhoea or vomiting

Symptoms are usually mild and many are manageable to live with by avoiding exposure or taking medication. However, on occasions the symptoms are severe, known as an anaphylaxis, or anaphylactic shock. This requires urgent medical attention.

Severe symptoms may also include a swelling of the throat and mouth, breathing problems, confusion, feeling dizzy and fainting.

What causes allergies?

There is not enough evidence to fully understand the reasons why some people become allergic to certain substances or foods.

However, some of us are higher risk, including:

  • Children
  • If you have a family history of allergies, or asthma
  • If you have asthma or other allergies

Common culprits to cause allergic reactions

Some people are allergic to just one or two substances, where as others may be allergic to several.

Common allergens include:

  • Pollen from grass and trees – causes hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis
  • Animal hair, or skin
  • Dust mites
  • Foods such as nuts, fruit and shellfish are common
  • Insect bites, or stings from bees and wasps, for example
  • Medication, such as antibiotics, ibuprofen and aspirin
  • Latex, such as used to make condoms or gloves
  • Mould in the home or workplace
  • Chemicals used in the home or workplace, including detergents for washing laundry
A specialist consultation gives your health the attention it deserves.

Diagnosing and treating allergies

Diagnosing your allergies is the first step to managing them, by avoidance or with effective treatment.

A consultation with a specialist respiratory physician will first discuss your family medical history and also carry out various tests to help confirm diagnosis.

Tests for allergies include:

  • Skin prick test
  • Blood tests
  • Patch tests
  • Elimination diet
  • Food challenge testing

Following diagnosis, the best way to manage your symptoms is to avoid your allergens:

  • Be careful about what you eat, read labels and speak to restaurants about their ingredients
  • Avoid keeping pets, or keep them outside and don’t let them in the bedroom. Wash them regularly.
  • Keep homes well ventilated to avoid mould and mildew
  • Use chemical free cleaning products, or natural products
  • Allergy-proof your bedroom by getting the correct duvets and pillows
  • Avoid thick carpets in the house and opt for wooden floors where dust can be cleaned more easily
  • Stay inside when pollen counts are high

Other treatments to help manage symptoms include:

  • Antihistamines – used to prevent and clear-up allergic reactions
  • Decongestants – used to relive blocked nose following an allergic reaction
  • Lotions or creams – to relieve rashes and itchiness
  • Steroids – to reduce inflammation
  • Immunotherapy – for severe sufferers. This treatment acts like a vaccine by giving a small dosed amount of the allergen via injection, to help your body build immunity.

Special injections can be administered if you go into anaphylactic shock. If you suffer with regular and severe allergic reactions it will be important to know how to give yourself the injection whilst you await medical assistance.

It is also recommended to wear a Medical ID bracelet if your symptoms are severe, to advice medical professionals or anyone that comes to assist you, of your specific allergens.

Seek the right help to feel your best

To feel our best is ultimately everyone’s goal in life.

Often it is only when a condition arises, leaving us feeling unwell, that it becomes clear as to the value of our health.

Expert help is available to help you to better understand, manage and improve symptoms related to your respiratory health.

A specialist consultation gives your health the attention it deserves.