Allergy Management

Management of allergies

What causes allergies?
Allergies occur when the body’s immune system reacts to a particular substance as though it’s harmful.

It’s not clear why this happens, but most people affected have a family history of allergies or have closely related conditions such as asthma or eczema.

The number of people with allergies is increasing every year. The reasons for this are not understood, but one of the main theories is it’s the result of living in a cleaner, germ-free environment, which reduces the number of germs our immune system has to deal with.

It’s thought this may cause it to overreact when it comes into contact with harmless substances.

Common allergies

Substances that cause allergic reactions are called allergens. The more common allergens include:

grass and tree pollen – an allergy to these is known as hay fever (allergic rhinitis)

dust mites

animal dander (tiny flakes of skin or hair)

food – particularly nuts, fruit, shellfish, eggs and cow's milk

insect bites and stings

medication – including ibuprofen, aspirin, and certain antibiotics

latex – used to make some gloves and condoms

mould – these can release small particles into the air that you can breathe in

household chemicals – including those in detergents and hair dyes

Most of these allergens are generally harmless to people who aren’t allergic to them.

Symptoms

Allergic reactions usually happen quickly within a few minutes of exposure to an allergen.
They can cause:

sneezing

a runny or blocked nose

red, itchy, watery eyes

wheezing and coughing

a red, itchy rash

worsening of asthma or eczema symptoms

Management

When to see your doctor
See your GP if you think you or your child might have had an allergic reaction to something.

The symptoms of an allergic reaction can also be caused by other conditions. Your GP can help determine whether it’s likely you have an allergy.

If your GP thinks you might have a mild allergy, they can offer advice and treatment to help manage the condition.

If your allergy is particularly severe or it’s not clear what you’re allergic to, your GP may refer you to an allergy specialist for testing and advice about treatment.

How to manage an allergy
In many cases, the most effective way of managing an allergy is to avoid the allergen that causes the reaction whenever possible.

For example, if you have a food allergy, you should check a food’s ingredients list for allergens before eating it.

There are also several medications available to help control symptoms of allergic reactions, including:

antihistamines – these can be taken when you notice the symptoms of a reaction, or before being exposed to an allergen to stop a reaction occurring

decongestants – tablets, capsules, nasal sprays or liquids that can be used as a short-term treatment for a blocked nose

lotions and creams, such as moisturising creams (emollients) – these can reduce skin redness and itchiness

steroid medication – sprays, drops, creams, inhalers and tablets that can help reduce redness and swelling caused by an allergic reaction

a red, itchy rash

worsening of asthma or eczema symptoms

For some people with very severe allergies, a treatment called immunotherapy may be recommended.

This involves being exposed to the allergen in a controlled way over a number of years, so your body gets used to it and doesn’t react to it so severely.

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