By Jana Abelovska
From coughing, sneezing to hives and itchy eyes, these are just some of the milder symptoms of an allergic reaction. Reactions vary from person to person and can range from mild to severe and can lead to life-threatening conditions.
An allergic reaction occurs when our body treats a harmless substance as a threat. Our immune system activates itself and produces a response to this threat. In scientific literature, we call it an inappropriate immune response to a particular protein. Immunoglobin E (IgE) are substances produced by our immune system in response to the threat.
In simple words, our immune system mistakenly reads a certain protein as an invader and tries to fight off this threat. Allergic conditions can range from mild to severe. In some cases, they can be even life-threatening – Anaphylaxis.
Histamine is one of those chemicals that become the primary reason for allergic reactions. Allergic reactions can affect various parts of our body. The eyes, nose, throat, lungs, skin, and gastrointestinal tract are the vulnerable targets of such reactions. Over 20% of the UK population is affected by one or more allergic forms.
What are allergens?
Allergy-causing substances are known as allergens. Allergens come with food, dust, plant pollen, or medicines. If you are allergic to something, your defensive system mistakenly believes that the body is at risk. In response to allergens, our body releases chemical substances.
The list of allergens is quite long. Usually, they originate from dust mite excretion, pollens, pet dander, or royal jelly. Nearly any food can cause an allergic reaction. However, food items like nuts, seafood, sesame, eggs, dairy products, fish, wheat, soy, and shellfish can cause severe allergies.
Animal products like wool and fur are also another source of allergens. Certain drugs Penicillin and Sulfonamides, can also cause allergies. Other allergens include Insect stings, latex, wood, and some metals.
Symptoms and signs of Allergy
Symtoms vary from person to person and different allergies have different symptoms. However there are some symtoms that are common in all, those symptoms include; sneezing, wheezing, heavy chest, trouble breathing, hives, swelling of the face, and dryness/redness of the skin. The severity of allergic reactions depends on various factors. A patient with asthma and a history of allergic reactions can be at a greater risk of developing severe allergies.
Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction. The risk of anaphylaxis is high for kids with severe allergies. This severe allergic reaction can happen in seconds after contracting allergens.
Types of Allergies:
Allergies come in many forms. Here are some of the major types of allergies people suffer from:
- Food Allergy:
When you eat something, do inquire about its ingredient first. This way, you can comfortably manage and control your food-related allergies. In the UK, 2 million people suffer from food allergies. Food allergy has become prevalent in children. Over 7% of kids in the UK are suffering from food-related allergies. Such kids are vulnerable to anaphylaxis, a potentially threatening allergic reaction.
All foods contain some degree of allergy-causing agents. Allergic reactions occur when certain food comes in contact with antibodies produced by an individual's immune system. This contact sparks a clash and gives rise to symptoms like wheezing, mouth itching, dizziness, vomiting, and hives. Such allergic reactions can be prevented by avoiding food that contains food allergens.
In the UK, 14 main food allergens should be legally mentioned if used as an ingredient.
These allergens are Celery, Cereals containing gluten, Crustaceans, Eggs, Fish, Lupin, Milk, Molluscs, Mustard, Tree Nuts, Peanuts, Sesame seeds, Soya and Sulphur dioxide.
Mainly food allergies are divided into 3 categories:
- IgE-mediated food allergy: The most common and severe type. Involves antibodies immunoglobulin E (IgE).
- Non-IgE-mediated food allergy: Immunoglobulin E is not involved. Slow progression.
- Mixed IgE and non-IgE-mediated food allergy: Involves symptoms of both types.
- Pollen Allergy:
Another common form is pollen allergy. Pollen allergies are seasonal and typical across the globe. 20% of the UK population suffers from seasonal allergies caused by pollen. This allergy is triggered by pollen grains that come from trees, grass, and weeds. Trees release different types of pollens at different times of the year. Pollen allergy can occur anytime, but it is common during summer and spring. With good preparation, we can combat this allergy.
Medication: Nasacort Nasal Spray, Beconase Nasal Spray.
- Mould Allergy
Mould belongs to fungi and can be found everywhere. The seeds of moulds called spores can travel through the air. Allergic reactions caused by spores are common during summer and fall but can occur throughout the year. Mould allergy can cause symptoms of hay fever and asthma. It can be prevented by avoiding mould spores exposure and improving indoor air quality.
Medication: Beconase Aqueous Nasal Spray.
- Dust Allergy
In addition to mould spores, your home has another irritant that many people are allergic to. They are called dust mites. They can trigger uncomfortable symptoms in individuals who suffer from dust allergies. Known as the most common in-house allergen, dust mites can affect people year-round. They can trigger conditions like allergic rhinitis, asthma, and eczema. A hygienic and clean indoor environment helps keep dust allergies at bay. Dust allergies can be treated by opting for medication options.
Medication: Benadryl Allergy Relief Capsules, Zirtek Tablets.
- Pets and insect allergies
Did you know 35 % of pet owners in Britain suffer from an allergic reaction because of their fur buddies! When it comes to causing allergies, domestic animals play a crucial role. Pets can cause allergic symptoms like skin redness, swelling, trouble breathing, and rashes in allergy sufferers. Such people should avoid direct contact with the following:
- Pet fur
- Pet saliva
If you think you have a pet allergy, do get in touch with your allergist.
Like pets, insects too can cause allergic reactions. Stings and bites of mosquitos and bees can cause trouble for individuals who are allergic to bugs.
- Medication allergy
Medication allergy is another common allergy across the UK. Data suggests that 15% of UK residents reported abnormal reactions to medications. However, less than 5% of those cases were termed as genuinely allergic.
People who think they might be at risk of medication allergy should read the information leaflet of medicines before using them. Some signs help individuals find whether they are suffering from this variant of allergy or not. Hives, itching, wheezing and swelling are considered the most common signs of medication allergy. Moreover, the possibility of anaphylaxis also exists.
- Latex Allergy
Rubber bands, balloons, gloves, condoms, and bandages are made of latex. If you come in contact with these rubber items and start noticing symptoms like skin redness and hives, you may be suffering from latex allergy. Because of latex allergy, manufacturers have begun making latex products with other materials like silicone and synthetic polyisoprene. They don't cause allergies.
Thanks to our scientists and medical experts, we now have more information and data on allergies. We have more understanding of their symptoms and possible solutions. A straightforward approach can help us understand our allergies and their prevention better and more comprehensively.