Allergies occur when a normally harmless substance triggers a hypersensitive response from the Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies in your blood.
Common allergies cause a range of reactions such as sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes, runny nose, sinus pain and skin rashes.
Hay fever and other ailments caused by allergens are easily treated with medicines and preventative techniques.
However an allergic reaction can cause more serious conditions such as eczema and asthma and also anaphylactic shock. Anaphylactic shock is extremely dangerous and may cause a swollen throat and mouth and difficulty swallowing and breathing, as well as nausea and vomiting.
How can you spot an allergy?
Diagnosing your allergic reaction can take time as your immune system slowly becomes hyper-sensitised. There are numerous allergens that can trigger allergies. Some of the most common are house dust mites, insect stings, grass and tree pollen, pet hair and skin flakes, fungal or mould spores. You could also suffer from a food allergy or a reaction to household chemicals.
To diagnose which allergy you have you may be offered a series of tests and asked you about any family history of allergies. Then you could be referred to a specialist for further tests.
Tests may include a skin prick where you are put into contact with a small amount of the suspected allergen to assess your reaction.
A blood test may also assess how many IgE antibodies are being produced by your immune system in response to an allergy. A patch test may be used to check a suspected substance on your skin using small metal disks.
How can allergies be treated?
How you treat your allergy symptoms varies according to the type and severity of your allergic reaction. For example, with eczema and asthma, there are a number of specialist treatments your doctor will be able to suggest.
Medication will be offered to you for most allergies.
For those which cause serious anaphylactic shock, adrenaline may be injected while, for many people suffering from hay fever, insect stings, dust and food allergy, antihistamines are often prescribed as tablets, liquids or creams.
Decongestant tablets, sprays and liquids — including sprays containing steroids — are also prescribed to help reduce inflammation in your airways to making it easier to breathe.
Can your allergy symptoms be prevented?
For a longer-term solution, some people undergo immunotherapy or ‘hyposensitisation’. This process of gradually introducing more and more of an allergen, such as pollen, can sometimes help your body become less sensitive to it.
However, for many people prevention commonly involves a conscious avoidance of a substance or environment in which their previous allergy symptoms occurred.
If you have experienced anaphylactic shock in the past, you might consider carrying an auto-injection kit of adrenaline with you and wearing a medical information bracelet to make people aware of your condition.
You can reduce your allergy problems through early diagnosis, sensible medication and conscious prevention techniques combined with a healthy diet and a range of beneficial vitamin and nutritional supplements.