What are Allergies?
Allergies are caused by exposure to a substance which provokes an exaggerated or adverse reaction of the immune system.
Allergies are very common, but it is not known why some people are affected by allergies and others are not.
Types of Allergy
Any substance that triggers an allergic reaction is known as an allergen. Some of the most common allergens include:
- Hayfever/Rhinitis (pollen/grass)
- Skin rashes (urticaria/hives, swellings)
- Food allergies/intolerances (nuts, shellfish, eggs, gluten, lactose)
- Animals (cats, insects)
Allergies can cause the suffer debilitating and sometimes life threatening symptoms.
Symptoms can range from wheezing, skin rashes, runny or blocked nose, itchy eyes and ears, facial and lip swelling to more serious conditions such as anaphylaxis.
Allergies in children have increased over the last ten years, with the number of children with peanut allergies more than doubling.
Common children’s allergies include food allergies, asthma, eczema (atopic dermatitis) and hayfever (allergic rhinitis).
The symptoms of allergies can significantly affect a child’s quality of life; cause absence from school and therefore impair educational performance.
Treatment of Allergies
The treatment of allergies depends on the allergen causing the reaction. In some cases, avoiding the substance causing the allergy is the most effective way of managing it.
Most allergies can be managed using medication to control the symptoms. Common medications include antihistamines, decongestants or steroid sprays.
More acute reactions, such as severe rhinitis may be treated by immunotherapy. Immunotherapy consists of a course of vaccines which aim to reduce the severity of the allergy and amount of medication needed to control the symptoms. The effects of the course last for three years.
Adrenaline injectors (known as EpiPen and Anapen) are used for anaphylaxis, which is a severe allergic reaction that can cause difficulty breathing and a drop in blood pressure, leading to unconsciousness. The injector is an easy to use syringe.