What Is An Allergy?
An allergic reaction occurs when your immune system overreacts
to a normally harmless substance. Just as our bodies make antibodies to fight germs, they may also make
antibodies in response to other substances that get inside our bodies. This
results in an allergy, an adverse reaction caused by hypersensitivity to a
normally harmless substance such as pollen, dust, food, or a drug.
Allergens, the substance that causes the allergic reaction, can cause one or
Respiratory allergies can cause asthma or
Intestinal allergies (i.e., food allergies)
can cause vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhoea.
Skin allergies can cause urticaria (hives or
nettle rash) and various forms of dermatitis.
A massive allergic reaction can cause an
anaphylactic shock in some individuals and be life-threatening.
What Triggers An
Substances called "allergens" are responsible for triggering allergic
reactions. Most allergens contain some protein, which is an important part of
all living things. Allergens that do not contain protein have to bind to
protein within the body before they can cause a reaction.
Common allergens include:
House dust mites
Pets and other animals
Stings from bees, wasps and other insects
Foods such as eggs, milk and
Some industrial and household chemicals
Latex (in some disposable gloves. for
Some medicine (e.g., penicillin)
If you have an allergy, your body "believes" that an
allergen is harmful (in other words, your body has become "sensitised"). The
next time it encounters the substance, it produces a special antibody, IgE, to attack that
allergen. This leads to other cells in the body releasing chemicals (including
histamine) that cause the symptoms of an allergic reaction such as irritation
If you suffer from allergies, minimise your contact with the indoor and
outdoor areas where allergens are commonly found
Diagnosing An Allergy
If you or a member of your family has experienced symptoms related to
allergic reactions, there may be an allergy involved. Sometimes the trigger of
an allergic reaction is obvious to the individual. In other cases, a little
detective work is necessary. Think about the following: Is there a family history of allergic
Do the symptoms occur (or occur more
severely) at any particular time of day or year?
Do the symptoms occur in a particular
place, at home, work or school?
Do symptoms occur after any particular
activity, such as eating a certain food or using a certain product?
The answers to these questions may help you or your doctor identify the
cause. Sometimes a doctor will use allergy testing, such as a skin prick test,
to pinpoint a specific cause.
Preventing or minimising contact with the allergen prevents symptoms from
Treating An Allergy
For an individual with severe allergic reactions, allergies can be
debilitating and difficult to manage effectively. In many cases, simply
avoiding or minimising contact with a specific allergen can be effective
treatment. For example, it is relatively easy to avoid eating kiwi fruit if
you are allergic to it. In other cases, avoidance can be difficult, either
because the allergen is hard to detect or because it is widespread in the
environment (e.g., pollen).
If your child has an allergy, it is important that you, and anyone who looks
after them, know how to avoid the allergen and what to do if your child has a
reaction. This might include giving an adrenalin injection. Make sure your
child's nursery or school knows how to deal with such an emergency.
If you suspect that your child has a food allergy or
intolerance, talk to your GP. Do not cut major food groups out of your child's
diet without advice from your GP or dietician.
Anaphylactic shock is a rare but very dangerous condition requiring urgent
medical treatment. It is a massive allergic reaction that develops in
sensitive individuals within a very short time after exposure to an
allergen, for example, following an insect sting, drug injection, or food
consumption. When a person is suffering from anaphylactic shock:
Their blood pressure may drop considerably.
Breathing becomes difficult.
Their face and neck may swell, increasing
the risk of suffocation.
If this happens, dial 999 immediately
(emergency service #) and get medical assistance. Some
people with a known risk of anaphylactic shock carry a dose of adrenalin that
they can inject in an emergency. If you or a member of your family is at risk
of anaphylactic shock, ask your doctor for advice.
Good Cleaning Is
We know that good home hygiene is vital in helping to protect you and your
family from germs and infectious diseases. However, good hygiene does not
eliminate all the microbes around us. It merely reduces the risk of
transmission of harmful germs from key sites around the home. Good cleaning
helps to reduce the presence of some common allergens, such as house dust
mites, moulds and animal hair. By keeping your house clean, you can help
reduce "attacks" in allergic individuals.
Allergies can cause symptoms ranging from a basic runny nose to a potentially fatal
(Part of our 'In-Home Allergen Control