Allergies - what are they?
Around one in four people in the UK suffer from an allergy. The term is used to describe a range of different reactions that people experience from various irritants (allergens) such as dust, pollen, or animal dander. These occur when the body’s immune system reacts to these substances as if they were something harmful. Why this happens is unclear, as is why the number of people who suffer with allergies is on the rise each year. One theory is that the more germ free a life we live, the less our body has to deal with, so it overreacts when any “harmful” substance is introduced. Allergies can come on at any point in your life, often with no apparent trigger.
There are also other conditions that can be confused for an allergy. These include intolerance which doesn’t involve the immune system, but can still cause unpleasant symptoms such as reflux (milk is often a common intolerance), and sensitivity which is an exaggeration of the normal effects of the substance, so, for example, mild spice may taste extremely hot or caffeine could lead to palpitations.
Some of the most common allergens include:
- Pollen and grass – which may cause “hay fever”
- Certain foods – peanuts, cow’s milk, shellfish
- Insect stings and bites
- Latex – some gloves and condoms
- Animal dander – the skin flakes of the animal
- Medication – certain painkillers and antibiotics
Symptoms of an allergic reaction
Most symptoms of an allergic reaction are mild but uncomfortable. They usually come on within the first few minutes of exposure to an allergen and can include:
- Irritation of the skin/an itchy rash
- Sore, water, itchy eyes
- Wheezing, coughing
- Runny nose
Sometimes an allergy can be severe, as is often the case with peanuts, for example, and lead to something known as anaphylaxis, or anaphylactic shock.
The symptoms of this can be:
- A fast heartbeat
- Breathing difficulties
- Clammy skin
- Collapsing and/or losing consciousness
If any of these begin to occur it is vital that you seek urgent medical attention as anaphylaxis is extremely serious.
What can Ramsay do for you?
Here at Ramsay we offer allergy testing to ascertain whether you are suffering from an allergy. These tests are often painless and quick. Our specialists have many years’ experience working in the field and have helped countless people with mild/severe allergies carry on with their lives.
Once you have been diagnosed your Consultant will create a tailored treatment and prevention plan with you to help limit your contact with your allergen, and to help you understand what you can do if you do have a reaction.
What you can do to manage an allergy?
Unfortunately there is no cure yet for allergies. If you have one it’s often the case that you’ll have to work out the best way to manage it. Sometimes an allergy may disappear on its own, or using desensitisation techniques (under medical supervision). This is where your body is exposed to the allergen is increasingly larger doses over a long period of time with the hope that your body stops recognising it as hostile. Other, less extreme ways that you can manage your allergy include:
- Avoid the allergen if possible (discussed further below)
- Take regular antihistamines – there are numerous medications out there designed to help with allergies. These are often taken either after exposure to an allergen or in regular, daily doses to build up a resistance. They can come as tablets, capsules, nasal sprays, eye drops, etc
- Use lotion or creams – if you suffer with red itchy skin/rash there are both natural and steroid creams available to help alleviate the irritation.
- Take decongestants – these are short-term treatment options used for unblocking a nose. They can come in tablet/capsule, liquid, or nasal spray form. Most are not meant to be used for more than a week as prolonged use can make your symptoms worse.
Medical advice is required before starting some of these.
How to make managing your allergies simpler
There are a number of steps you can take that will help keep you safe as well as making managing your allergies that little bit easier. They include:
Wear a medical alert bracelet
A medical alert bracelet is worn on the wrist and can provide medical professionals with vital information, such as your allergies and any other medical conditions, should you find yourself unable to communicate with them.
Search for useful apps
In recent years as smartphones have become far more commonplace, numerous apps have been developed with the intention of helping those that suffer from allergies. There are ones that scan barcodes from food items to alert of any potential allergens, and others that know which restaurants near you are the most accommodating, etc. Search online for ones that you believe will be best suited for your own particular allergy.
How to avoid an allergen
It’s easier said than done for a lot of allergens. Below are a few tips for avoiding the most common:
- Keep an eye on the pollen count. If it’s going to be high than try to stay indoors or at least away from dense vegetation like grassy parks, or woodlands
- Always check the labels of ready food. Depending on the severity of your allergy avoid even trace amounts that can occur in production (nuts being handled in the same factory though they aren’t present in the food, for example)
- When eating out don’t be embarrassed or feel awkward about informing the staff about any allergies or intolerances. Ask them what is in the dish you want, if it’s possible to get a substitute, or what are your other options. Most places now try to be as accommodating as possible
- Create a cleaning schedule for your living space. Ensure that you or someone else vacuums and dusts regularly – consider getting hard flooring and removing rugs/carpets if possible.
- Buy specific latex free gloves and condoms
- Make sure to inform anyone who may need to use latex gloves on you (health professionals, etc) about your allergy. They will use latex free versions instead
- Do not own the animal that you are allergic to
- If you cannot help this then make sure that your reaction isn’t too severe, and also work out what medications can help ease any discomfort
- Take medication such as antihistamines when visiting someone who owns the animal
Always take the time to ensure that you fill out any medical forms correctly and alert medical staff to your allergies