Whether you are an allergy sufferer yourself, or just have close friends or family members with allergies, you will understand the frustration that allergies can cause – especially when they’re misunderstood. In this article, we’re going to talk more about allergies, their common causes and symptoms, so why not start by taking our allergy quiz to see if you can tell the allergy facts from the fiction?
What are allergies?
Many people would admit that they don’t really know what allergies are, or what happens in the body when they have an allergic reaction – even if they’ve suffered from them their whole lives! When you have an allergy, your immune system responds to normally ‘harmless’ substances, such as dust mites, pollen or certain types of foods, and treats them as though they are a ‘threat’.
When your body senses a threat, it produces histamine and other chemicals from the body’s ‘mast cells’, which are present in our bodily tissues that come into contact with the external environment, including our skin, nose, eyes, mouth, throat, stomach and gut. When the mast cells are producing these chemicals in response to a threatening substance, or allergen, that’s when you’ll experience the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
What are some of the most common allergens?
There are many different types of allergens, but here are a few of the most common causes of allergy:
- grass and tree pollen – the allergy to these is called hayfever (allergic rhinitis)
- dust mites
- animal dander (tiny flakes of their skin or fur)
- food – nuts, fruit, shellfish, eggs and cow's milk in particular
- insect bites and stings
- medication – such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and some antibiotics
- latex – used to make some gloves and condoms, so use latex-free condoms if you have a latex allergy
- mould – it can release small particles into the air that you breathe in
- household chemicals – such as those in detergents and hair dyes
What are the most common symptoms of allergic reaction?
You may have noticed that the symptoms of an allergic reaction to pollen, for example, are different to the symptoms of an allergic reaction to a food. That’s because allergens irritate the body at the place where they enter it – so an allergy to pollen gives you a runny nose and itchy eyes because you’ve probably inhaled it or it has been blown into your eyes, and a shellfish allergy may give you a swollen mouth or tongue, nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea because you’ve eaten it.
However, different allergens can affect different people in different ways, but you’ll usually notice the symptoms of allergy presenting within a few minutes of exposure. Here are the most common symptoms of allergy that you should look out for:
- a runny or blocked nose
- red, itchy, watery eyes
- wheezing and coughing
- a red, itchy rash
- worsening of asthma or eczema symptoms
In most cases, allergic reactions will be mild. However if a person has a very strong sensitivity to an allergen, they may have a severe reaction which is known as ‘anaphylaxis’, or ‘anaphylactic shock’. This is a medical emergency which needs to be treated urgently as it can be fatal – you can read more about anaphylaxis and what to do if someone has a severe allergic reaction on the NHS website.
Share your results with us on Twitter @RowlandsTweets, and to help keep your allergies under control, take a look at our range of hayfever and allergy relief products available to buy online with fast delivery to your door.