If you have an allergy, welcome to the club! Over two million people in the UK alone have allergies, and an allergy itself is classified as the most common chronic disease in Europe. Up to 20% of people struggle with the fear of a possible asthma attack, anaphylactic shock, or even death from an allergic reaction. With this in mind, here we have accumulated some of the most common allergies that affect people, as well as how to recognise symptoms, avoid allergy triggers, and most importantly, how to seek relief and testing. Read on to find out more.
What is an allergy?
So let’s start with the basics, what actually is an allergy? An allergy is essentially a reaction from the body to a particular food or substance. Allergies are highly common, and are estimated to affect at least 1 in 4 people in the UK at some point in their lives. They are particularly common in young children and can go away as a child gets older, although for some people allergies can last throughout their life. Adults can develop allergies that they were previously not allergic to. Having an allergy can be a real issue for many people and make a huge impact on your day to day life. Nevertheless, for the majority of people their allergies are mild and can be kept under control, and although severe reactions can occur they are largely uncommon.
Here we’ll list some of the most common allergies:
- Grass and tree pollen – many people experience this and it’s commonly referred to as hayfever
- Dust mites
- Animals or animal dander – (dander is dead skill or flakes or skin and hair)
- Food intolerances or allergies – commonly nuts, fruit, fish and shellfish, eggs and cows’ milk
- Insect bites and stings – this can trigger anaphylactic shock
- Medication – including ibuprofen, aspirin and certain antibiotics
- Latex – this is commonly used to make rubber gloves or condoms
- Mould – this can release small particles into the atmosphere that you breathe in
- Household products/chemicals – this could classify as the chemicals used in hair dye and detergents
It’s worth noting that the things listed above are harmless to those who don’t have a reaction to them.
How do I know if I have an allergy?
If you have a tendency to sneeze when you’re around animals or feel a bit sniffly at the start of spring, there is a possibility you could have an allergy. But how can you be sure of this? The best thing you can do is speak to a doctor or an allergist. They’ll carry out a physical exam and do various tests.
You can help your doctor get a better understanding of your symptoms and make the correct diagnosis by:
- Making a list of your symptoms. Looking at these, your GP may be able to rule out other potential causes such as a cold, virus, or other illness.
- Track the time of your illness. If you’re sneezing for a couple of weeks every couple of months, or if your symptoms are worse in the morning, this may be another indication that you have allergies.
- Note any changes in your routine. Are you using a new washing detergent? Have you changed your skin care routine? Be aware of these changes in your diet and lifestyle. All of this can be an indication of what’s triggering your symptoms and potential allergy.
What are the symptoms of an allergic reaction?
The typical symptoms of an allergic reaction usually appear within a few minutes of exposure to an allergen. They can trigger:
- Sneezing and coughing
- A runny or blocked up nose
- Red, itchy, eyes
- Wheezing and coughing
- Red irritated skin and rashes
- Worsening of asthma or eczema symptoms
What help do you require for your allergies?
It’s crucial you see your GP if you think you your child might have had an allergic reaction, as you’ll need to identify it for their safety. The symptoms of an allergic reaction can also be brought on by various other conditions. Your GP can help determine whether it’s likely you have an allergy or not. If your GP thinks you might have a slight allergy, they can provide guidance and treatment to help you manage the condition. If your allergy is particularly bad or it’s unclear what you’re allergic to, they might refer you to an allergy specialist for testing and advice on treatments.
Managing an allergy
Unsurprisingly, one of the best ways to manage an allergy is to avoid the allergen itself wherever possible. For example, if you have a food allergy, always be mindful and check the ingredients prior to eating anything or igf you are eating out, query the ingredients with the consumer or the eatery, any dining establishment has an obligation to do this for you.
There are also many medications available to help manage the symptoms of an allergy, this includes but is not limited to:
- antihistamines – you can take these when you notice symptoms of a reaction appearing, or prior to being exposed to an allergen, to prevent a reaction occurring
- decongestants – you can get these in the form of tablets, capsules, nasal sprays or even liquid medicines that can be used for short-term treatments
- lotions and creams – these are known as emollients and can reduce skin redness and itchiness
- steroid medication – sprays, drops, creams, inhalers and tablets which can decrease redness and swelling caused by an allergic reaction
Some people with very severe allergies, a treatment known as immunotherapy could be recommended. This would involve being exposed to the allergen in a controlled manner over a number of years, with the result of your body gets used to it and so it won’t react to it so severely.
How to tell if its an allergy or an intolerance?
Allergy – a reaction created by the body’s immune system when exposed to a normally harmless substance
Sensitivity – the extreme reaction of the normal effects of a substance; for example, the caffeine in a cup of tea may cause extreme symptoms, such as palpitations and increased heart rate
Intolerance – where a substance causes horrible symptoms, such as vomiting or diarrhoea, but doesn’t involve the immune system; people with an intolerance to certain foods can eat a small amount without having any issues
The majority of allergic reactions are mild, but occasionally an extreme reaction is called anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock. This is a medical emergency and requires urgent treatment.
Getting an allergy test
If you suspect that you or your child may have an allergy it is important that you take the precaution of getting them tested. This may involve more than one type of test. An allergy test can help you understand whether you have an allergy or what you’re allergic to. This is crucial to managing your condition.
However, if you are aware that you have, hayfever for example, you don’t really require an allergy test as such, because it’s obvious you have hayfever from your symptoms. On the other hand, perennial rhinitis, which is essentially a runny nose all year round, can be triggered by several types of allergens, anything from house dust mites or even mould. This can also be triggered by a several food groups as well.
Allergy testing can also help you to examine the root and potential longevity of your allergy. For example, babies and children with certain food allergies often grow out of them.
Types of allergy testing
This would be done to test for allergens is referred to as a specific IgE test, also known as a RAST test. It’s used to measure the amount of IgE antibodies in your blood that have been created by your immune system in response to an allergy.
The patch test is used to see if a skin allergy for example, eczema is due to contact with a certain substance. A miniscule amount of a chemical substance is added to special metal discs, are taped to your skin for around 48 hours and monitored for any type of reaction. This test would be carried out at a dermatology department in a hospital.
Duality Health – offering private GP services, blood tests and allergy tests at our private medical centre
The dedicated team at Duality Health go above and beyond to meet your medical needs. Consisting of UK qualified GPs and Advanced Nurse Practitioners, we are well placed to carry out a whole raft of services at our private clinics, an element of our medical screening services is that we are able to provide our patients with extensive blood and allergy tests.
If you require a blood type test or any form of allergy testing, please don’t hesitate to contact us. In comparison to public hospitals and GP practices you will find our clinics relaxing and perhaps more crucially, unhurried. Make an appointment online for your private test or give us a call on 02830833666 at your convenience.