What is an allergy?
An allergy is the body’s way of reacting to certain substances or foods. It affects one in every four people in the EU and can hit people at any time of their lives.
Allergy symptoms range from mild to severe reactions depending on the person experiencing it. There are some substances generally known to cause allergies in large groups of people, including pollen, grass, dust, and specific foods.
Children often suffer from allergies more than adults do. But once you get an allergy in childhood, that’s likely to stick with you for the rest of your life. Some allergies may disappear as a child gets older, but some adults with previous allergic histories may develop allergies to new substances later in life.
Avoidance of allergic reactions is typically grounded on proper communication between the allergy sufferer and the people around him. You must inform people of your allergy to avoid exposure to the allergen as much as possible.
Allergies often have mild symptoms and are easily treatable. However, there are lots of exemptions to this, as allergic reactions can also become full-blown severe and could cause life-threatening situations if not promptly attended to.
What causes an allergic reaction?
When a person comes into contact with an allergen, the immune system activates and produces antibodies to target the substance, it deems as harmful. This reaction can cause varying degrees of inflammation on the skin, airways, sinuses, and digestive system. Such inflammation presents as irritation and minor rashes to some people, although others may also get full-fledged anaphylaxis which is a medical emergency.
What are the most common allergies?
According to the NHS, the following substances are the most common and prevalent allergens in the UK:
What causes an allergy?
Research still cannot pinpoint why allergies happen to people. However, medical evidence points out to people having family histories of asthma, eczema, and allergies as those who are more prone to becoming allergic to something.
The number of reported allergy cases keeps on increasing every year. Why this happens is also not that clear, but many believe in the so-called “Hygiene Hypothesis” theory. Its premise is that people nowadays are more predisposed to developing inappropriate immune responses to harmless substances simply because we are living in a cleaner environment and have the tools to become extremely clean at our disposal.
We’ve been protecting ourselves from infections by being extremely clean. This results in a reduced exposure in both harmful and harmless substances. This can send the immune system into overdrive. Now, when the body encounters a harmless substance, the immune system immediately reacts inappropriately, paving the way for an allergy.
What forms of an allergican reaction are there?
Here is a list of the most common allergic reactions prevalent in the UK today.
What are the common signs of an allergic reaction?
Allergy symptoms greatly vary depending on the general triggering factor that caused it:
Insect stings or bites:
When is an allergy an intolerance?
Allergies are heightened immune responses to typically harmless substances. Intolerance, on the other hand, is a condition that produces symptoms without involving the immune system. They may share similar symptoms, but in essence, they are not the same.
Allergies and intolerances are both different from a sensitivity. Sensitivities are conditions where a provoking substance elicits exaggerated, albeit not extreme, effects on the body. For example, a sensitivity to caffeine could lead to heart palpitations or trembling when you drink coffee or eat chocolates.
Your allergy questions, answered
How are allergies diagnosed?
There are three things a doctor may do to diagnose an allergy:
For suspected food allergies, the doctor may also check the patient’s weekly food log. He may also identify a suspected food allergen together with the patient, then instruct the allergy sufferer to stop eating it for some time then report back to the clinic to check if the allergy symptoms subsided.
Other diagnostic routes may include:
How are allergies treated?
The initial treatment for mild allergies is simply to avoid the triggering substance. It involves precisely identifying your triggers and adjusting your environment and diet to allow for as much avoidance to the trigger as possible. Good communication between you and the people around you will make allergy avoidance easier.
Other treatment options may include the following:
How can prevent an allergic reaction?
The best allergy prevention measure is to avoid the triggering substance as much as you possibly can. People who are at risk for severe allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis must carry at least two adrenaline auto-injectors with them at all times. Let your family members and friends know about your allergic reactions so that they can administer the shots to you in an emergency situation.
You can also wear MedicAlert or Medi-Tag medallions or bracelets when you go out alone in public to make anyone aware that you’re suffering from allergic reactions should a severe allergic attack suddenly take place.