Did you know that 1 in 5 Australians suffer from allergies? According to the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, allergy is one of the fastest growing chronic diseases in Australia.
What is an allergy?
An allergy occurs when a person's immune system reacts to substances in the environment that are harmless for most people. These substances are known as allergens and are commonly found in dust mites, pets, pollen, insects, mould, food and some medicines.
What causes an allergic reaction?
If you have an allergy, your immune system will overreact to contact with an allergen by producing allergic antibodies. When the allergen comes into contact with the antibodies, chemicals such as histamines are released, causing uncomfortable and irritating inflammation.
How does an allergic reaction look and feel?
The body responds to allergens in different ways, depending on what the allergen is.
- Eye, nose and throat irritation Some airborne allergens, including pollen and mould spores, can be breathed in. When histamines are released as part of your immune response, the cells of your nose, eyes and throat can become inflamed, causing itchy, watery sensations and sneezing.
- Skin problems All sorts of allergens, including food, insect bites, pet hair and airborne allergens, can trigger a reaction in the skin. Skin reactions can vary from the red, itchy patches of eczema to the sore, inflamed skin of contact dermatitis and the highly itchy bumps of hives.
- Stomach and bowel upsets Allergic reactions in the stomach and bowel are usually linked to food allergies. The most common food allergens are peanuts, seafood, eggs and dairy products. Remember that food allergies that trigger an immune response are different to food intolerances.
- Anaphylaxis The reactions mentioned above are usually mild to moderate and while uncomfortable, will calm down within a day or two. Sometimes people suffer from a severe reaction called anaphylaxis, which affects more than one system in the body, such as the respiratory system, the gastro-intestinal system, the skin or the cardiovascular system. Anaphylaxis requires immediate medical attention.
How can I manage my allergy?
Here are three key solutions:
- Lifestyle and environmental change The most effective way to deal with allergy is to change your habits and modify your surroundings so that you avoid the allergen as much as possible. If it is a mould allergy, rid your house of visible mould and fix leaky taps and roofs. If it’s a dust mite allergy, regularly hot wash your bedding in water heated to 55°C or more. If it’s a pet allergy, keep your pet well groomed and outside as much as possible.
- Good quality equipment Invest in a vacuum with a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter to remove pet and dust mite allergens. A stand-alone air purifier can also help to reduce the concentration of allergens.
- Medications Antihistamines are a group of drugs that stop the histamines released during an allergic reaction from having an impact on your body. They can be used to ease all sorts of allergic reactions from skin rashes to nausea. Your pharmacist or GP will be able to advise you on which product is right for you. Other medications for relief from allergic reactions include intranasal corticosteroid spray and medicated eye drops. Anaphylactic reactions are commonly treated with adrenaline.