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All You Need to Know about Allergies

Allergies are your body’s reactions to substances that are normally harmless, like pollen, dust mites, moulds, animal dander, some foods, latex, insect stings and others. Doctors from a Private GP clinic in London can help you manage allergies.

Allergy symptoms range from mild (like hives or rashes, runny nose, itchiness, watery/red eyes) to life-threatening. Their treatments include antihistamines, nasal steroids, decongestants, asthma medicines, and immunotherapy.

What are allergies?

Allergies occur when your body senses normal substances as harmful ‘invaders’ and reacts accordingly. For instance, coming in contact with a harmless substance like pollen can make your immune system react. The substances that trigger these reactions we known it as allergens.

Allergic reaction: what does it mean?

An allergic reaction implies your body’s reaction to an allergen. It is also the chain of reactions that occur due to the invasion of an allergen.

When people exposed to a specific allergen (e.g. pollen) for the first time, their bodies will produce allergic (IgE) antibodies as a response.

The role of these antibodies is to identify the allergens and take them out of your system. This will allow your body to release achemical called histamine, which is responsible for the symptoms of allergies.

Types of allergies and it’s treatment

People can be allergic to many substances, including pollen, mould, dust mite, animal dander, etc.

Pollen

Pollen causes seasonal allergic rhinitis or hay fever. These allergic reactions are the most common for pollen allergen. Pollens are cause the lining of your nose and conjunctiva to be inflamed and swollen.

Symptoms of this allergy include sneezing, congestion (feeling stuffy), and itchy, watery eyes, nose and mouth. It can be treated with prescriptions medications like nasal antihistamines, oral antihistamines, anti-leukotrienes, nasal steroids, and nasalcromolyn. You may experience allergic asthma symptoms (like wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, or chest tightness) due to exposure to pollen grains.

You can reduce your symptoms by avoiding pollen grains. This involves staying indoors when there are high pollen grain counts, closing your window, and using the air conditioner.

Talk to your doctor about allergy shots (immunotherapy) to treat your pollen allergy.

Dust mites

Some tiny organisms live in dust and fibres of household items, like carpets, upholstery, pillows, and mattresses. It called dust mites. They mostly grow in a warm, humid environment.

Dust mite allergy has symptoms that are similar to that of pollen. You can manage dust mite allergies by using airtight polyurethane/plastic covers called ‘dust mite encasements’ over mattresses, pillows, and box springs. Also, frequently take out your carpet and vacuum them with a highly efficient filter vacuum cleaner.

Treatments for this allergy include taking medications to control the symptoms affecting your eye, nose, and chest. You may be recommended to go for immunotherapy if your symptoms cannot be adequately controlled by the medication and avoidance methods.

Moulds

Mould is a common trigger of allergies, and it is a small fungus (like Penicillium) with spores. They float in the air like pollen. Moulds can be found in the bathroom, kitchen, basement, and outdoors in the grass, hay, leaf piles, or under mushrooms. Mould spores are prevalent during hot, humid weather.

The treatment for this allergy includes medications to control symptoms affecting the eye, nose, and chest. Your doctor may recommend immunotherapy for you if your symptoms cannot be adequately controlled by the medication and avoidance methods.

Animal dander

The proteins secreted by the sweat glands of animals, shed in dander and proteins from animal saliva can cause allergic reactions. Since avoidance techniques do not work well for the type of allergy, removing your pet from your home is usually the best strategy. However, some people find it difficult to do this.

The second best way to prevent this allergy is by disallowing your pets from accessing your bedroom. Also, use air cleaners with HEPA filtration to wash your pet (dog or cat) frequently.

The treatment for this allergy includes using medications to control symptoms affecting the eye, nose, and chest. Your doctor may recommend immunotherapy for you if your symptoms cannot be adequately controlled by the medication and avoidance methods.

Latex

Many people develop latex allergy after several contacts with latex. The major source of this allergy is rubber gloves like those used for home cleaning or surgery. Latex allergy usually causes skin rashes, hives, irritation, eye tearing, wheezing, and skin itching.

The allergic reactions to latex can be mild (like itching and redness) or severe. The severe reactions usually occur when your mucosal membranes have been exposed, such as during a dental or gynecologic exam or surgery.

The first way of treating latex allergy is by removing the product causing it. People with a latex allergy must carry an emergency epinephrine kit and wear a Medic Alert® bracelet. Tell your health team about your allergy so that they can carry out every procedure in a latex-safe fashion.

Latex allergy cannot be cured; they are better prevented and avoided.

Some kinds of foods

People have food allergy after developing a certain antibody to a particular food. Some people can experience food allergies within a few minutes of eating the food, and they can have severe symptoms.

Some common food allergies in adults include peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish. Children mostly have allergies to soy, wheat, milk, egg, shellfish, tree nuts, and peanuts.

People with afood allergy will likely experience hives, itching, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, swelling around the mouth, and difficulties in breathing.

You must avoid allergy-causing foods. The doctor may prescribe injectable epinephrine (adrenaline) for you to carry all the time if you or your child has an allergy. You will need this in case you unknowingly eat foods that will trigger the allergies. Oral immunotherapy is available as the new therapy for peanut allergies.

Insect venoms (stings)

The normal reaction to a bee sting includes pain, redness and swelling around the sting site. Sometimes, the swelling may go beyond the site of the sting. For instance, a bee sting in your ankle can cause your leg to be swollen.

However, most people can develop a severe reaction to an insect sting which is an allergic one. This reaction often requires immediate medical attention. The following are the symptoms of an allergic reaction to insect sting:

  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Widespread red-looking hives, itchy rashes that spread to other areas besides the part that was stung
  • Swelling of the throat, face or mouth tissues
  • Difficulty in swallowing and wheezing
  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Dizziness or a sharp drop in the blood pressure
  • Rapid pulse

If you have these kinds of reactions, being re-stung by the insect can cause a life-threatening reaction.

Epinephrine (adrenaline) is used to treat an allergic reaction. If you have experienced an allergic reaction to a bee sting, go to a board-certified immunologist to test your skin or blood to confirm that you are allergic to the bee venom.

If venom allergy doctors will recommend venom immunotherapy. This will reduce your risk of having a severe and life-threatening reaction to a re-sting.

Allergic rhinitis: what is it?

Allergic rhinitis is a term that describes nasal allergy symptoms and hay fever. Seasonal allergic rhinitis is a nasal allergy that changes with seasons because of the number of pollen grains from plants. These seasonal symptoms will be higher during the pollinating periods of certain plants.

Since you could be allergic to more than one allergen, you may experience worse symptoms at different times of the year, or they may remain unchanged.

Does everyone have allergies?

No, not everyone gets allergies. Some allergies are inherited. People usually inherit a tendency to be allergic, though not to a particular allergen. A child is more likely to have allergies if their parents have or had allergies.

How common are allergies?

Allergies are common, with one out of six people in America (more than 50 million people) having all types of allergies, including food and drug, skin, insect, eye, and indoor/outdoor allergies. The number of people with allergies keeps increasing across all sex, age, and racial groups.

Symptoms of allergies

The symptoms of allergies could be mild, moderate, or severe.

The mild symptoms include local symptoms (which affect a particular part of your body) like:

  • Hives or rashes
  • Itchiness
  • Watery/red eyes
  • Hay fever
  • Runny nose

Mild symptoms do not spread to other parts of the body.

The moderate symptoms can spread to other parts of the body, and they include:

  • Itchiness
  • Hives
  • Sometimes, swelling and difficulty breathing

A severe allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis. This condition is when your body suddenly responds to an allergen in a way that affects your entire body. Anaphylaxis usually starts with itching of the eye and face and, within some minutes, progresses to more severe symptoms like:

  • Swelling of the throat, which could affect the way you breathe or swallow
  • Abdominal pains
  • Cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Angioedema (hives and swelling)
  • Sometimes, dizziness or mental confusion. This is because anaphylaxis can induce a drop in blood pressure.

Causes of allergies

Anything can become an allergy, provided your body tags it as a ‘harmful invader’ whenyou come in contact with it. These substances are usually harmless. The most typical harmless allergens include pollen, mould, dust, foods, animal dander, insect venom, and latex.

The symptoms you have from allergens are usually a result of the chains of reactions that occur in your body as a response to the allergen. These allergens cause your body to make antibodies that will fight them,which cause histamines release. Histamines are responsible for the allergy symptoms you experience.

Diagnosis

It is not wise to wait for the symptoms of allergies to go away. If the symptoms last for more than one or two weeks and tend to come back, you need to book an appointment with an allergen or immunology specialist.

Allergy skin testing is essential for identifying the allergens causing your symptoms. This test is usually done by pricking your skin with a little amount of the allergen extract and monitoring how your skin reacts to it.

Blood test is another way to diagnosis allergies. The skin test is more sensitive than the blood test.  The higher the number of a particular antibody, the more the person is allergic to that allergen.

Besides these two, there is another allergy testing available.

How to treat allergies

The best approach for treating allergies is avoiding the allergens. However, that does not entirely cure the allergic reaction.

Using medication like antihistamines (e.g. Zyrtec®, Allegra®), decongestants (e.g. Contact®, Sudafed®), or combining some over-the-counter and prescription drugs can treat the symptoms of allergies.

You can also use nasal sprays like topical nasal antihistamines and topical nasal steroids (like Flonase®, Nasonex®) and cromolyn sodium to treat the symptoms of allergy.

Asthma medications used to manage allergy symptoms include:

  • Inhaled steroids
  • Inhaled bronchodilators
  • Oral bronchodilators like theophylline
  • Oral anti-leukotrienes like (montelukast, zafirlukast, and zileuton)
  • Injected medications like reslizumab, dupilumab, omalizumab, benralizumab, or Mepolizumab

Saline irrigation with a sinus rinse kit is another effective treatment option.  To make your rinse, mix one-half teaspoon baking soda with one-half teaspoon non-iodinated salt in eight ounces of boiled or distilled water.

This mixture is potent for rinsing out allergens and reducing the amount of (oedema) inflammation that they can cause.

Are allergies curable?

No allergies are not curable. But the symptoms can be controlled by using both avoidance measures and medications.

It all starts with visiting a Private GP. Find a private GP near you in London here.

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