An Allergy is an adverse reaction that the body has to a particular food or substance within the environment. Most substances that cause allergies are not harmful and have no effect on people who are not allergic.
In the UK one person in four will suffer from an allergy at some point in their lifetime. This number is increasing every year, with up to half of those affected being children. The reason for this rise is unclear, although some experts believe it is associated with pollution or caused by living in a cleaner, germ-free environment which reduces the number of germs our immune system has to deal with. Some people are genetically more likely to develop an allergy, particularly boys or babies who had a low birth weight.
An allergy develops when the body’s immune system reacts to an allergen as if it is a threat, and produces antibodies to fight off the allergen. The body remembers previous exposure to the allergen and when exposed again produces more of the antibodies, causing the release of chemicals in the body that lead to the allergic reaction.
The most common symptoms are sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, wheezing, coughing and dermatitis. Allergic reactions are often mild, but they can sometimes be very serious. In the most serious cases, a person has a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) which can be life-threatening.
Allergens that trigger allergies include pollen, house dust mites, mould, pets, wasps and bees, industrial and household chemicals. In addition you can also be allergic to foods such as milk, nuts (mainly peanuts), fruit and eggs; as well as medicines, metals and latex.
Common allergic disorders include asthma, eczema, hay fever and urticaria. Hay fever is caused by contact with pollen, whilst eczema can be triggered by foods, house dust mites, pollen or pet hair. Asthma can be triggered by allergens such as pets, house dust mite droppings in dust, pollens and moulds. Urticaria can occur as part of an allergic reaction to foods, drugs and insect stings.
The most effective way of managing an allergy is to avoid all contact with the allergen causing the reaction. Taking medication can't cure your allergy, but it can treat the common symptoms. Antihistamine can help relieve the symptoms of a mild to moderate allergic reaction, whilst adrenaline is an effective treatment for anaphylaxis.
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