Allergies are the most common chronic diseases in the UK and the prevalence continues to grow by 5% every year.

Remarkably, nearly half of the UK's adult and child population live with one or more allergies. In fact, every fifth allergy sufferer grapples with the everyday concern of possibly experiencing an asthma attack, anaphylactic shock, or even a fatal allergic reaction.

Experts are still not sure why there is a persistent increase in food allergies, hay fever, asthma, and eczema, but scientists suspect that over-cleaning, diet and air pollution may play a role.

What Causes Allergies?

An allergic reaction happens when your body’s immune system over reacts to something that is normally harmless. Your immune system reacts to the foreign protein, known as an allergen, by releasing a substance called histamine, which causes the symptoms commonly associated with allergies. Common allergens include:

  • Tree and grass pollen which causes hay fever
  • House dust mites
  • Foods, such as peanuts, milk, seafood, and eggs
  • Animal fur, particularly from pets like cats and dogs
  • Insect stings, such as bee and wasp stings
  • Certain medicines such as penicillin

What Are The Symptoms Of An Allergy?

Some people experience mild symptoms, such as sneezing and a runny nose. Severe allergic reactions, called anaphylactic shock, can cause breathing difficulties and can be life threatening.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction can include:

  • A runny nose or sneezing
  • Pain or tenderness around your cheeks, eyes or forehead
  • Coughing, wheezing or breathlessness
  • Itchy skin or a raised rash (hives)
  • Diarrhoea
  • Feeling or being sick
  • Swollen eyes, lips, mouth or throat

What Is Anaphylaxis?

In some people, an allergy can trigger a life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis causes your immune system to release masses of hormones that can cause you to go into shock. It causes your blood pressure to drop and your airways to tighten.

Symptoms, which can develop rapidly, include breathing difficulties, feeling faint, a weak pulse, a skin rash, wheezing, confusion, and vomiting. In severe cases, you may lose consciousness or even die if you do not receive urgent medical attention.

What Is The Difference Between A Food Allergy And A Food Intolerance?

A food allergy is caused by your immune system overreacting to a particular type of food. A food intolerance is when your body is not able to digest a particular food or ingredient. Food intolerance cannot produce a serious allergic reaction although, if not properly managed, it can adversely affect your general health and well-being.

Food allergies cause an immune system reaction shortly after eating a certain food. Even a tiny amount of the allergy-causing food can trigger digestive problems, hives or swollen airways. Occasionally, a food allergy can cause a severe reaction such as anaphylactic shock. The most common foods people are allergic to include:

  • Eggs
  • Cow’s milk
  • Mustard
  • Peanuts
  • Crustaceans and molluscs
  • Fish
  • Sesame seeds
  • Soy

The three most common food intolerances are lactose (a sugar found in milk), casein (a protein found in milk), and gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley). Food intolerance can produce several troublesome symptoms including stomach pain, bloating, flatulence (gas), diarrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), rashes, hives (urticaria), recurrent mouth ulcers or headaches.

How Can My Allergies Be Treated?

If you suffer from allergies, finding the right healthcare practitioner is the first step towards improving your symptoms and achieving optimal health. An allergist is a physician who specialises in the diagnosis and treatment of asthma and other allergic diseases. The allergist is specially trained to diagnose and treat allergies, asthma, and immunologic conditions.

Your specialist will begin by running a couple of tests in order to understand your allergy better. These will normally include a skin prick or patch test and blood tests. These tests are designed to identify the problem-causing allergen/s.

Once your specialist has diagnosed your allergies, they will provide you with an allergy management plan that will explain how to manage your allergy. Treatment options may include medicines, such as antihistamines, steroid tablets, or steroid creams. If you suffer from severe allergic reactions, you may need to use emergency medicines such as an EpiPen.

If you suffer from severe allergies, you also benefit from novel immunotherapy treatments such as desensitisation. This involves exposing you to the substance that you are allergic to over time so that your body gradually gets used to it.

How Can My Food Intolerance Be Treated?

A gastroenterologist and dietician can work hand in hand to successfully diagnose and treat your food intolerance. A gastroenterologist can diagnose a potential food intolerance while a dietician (food and nutrition specialist) can educate you on the best food choices for your condition.

There are several types of food intolerance tests. The most accurate ones are blood tests for testing for coeliac disease and gluten intolerance. A hydrogen breath test is used to diagnose lactose and fructose intolerance.

If the gastroenterologist suspects that you have coeliac disease, they might perform a biopsy of your small intestine. Coeliac disease is a long-term autoimmune digestive disease that results in inflammation in the small intestine and causes difficulty absorbing nutrients from food.

Frequently Asked Questions

A food allergy is caused by your immune system overreacting to a particular type of food, whereas a food intolerance is caused by your body's inability to digest a particular food.

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction which causes your immune system to release masses of chemicals, resulting in shock or even death in people.

Coeliac disease is a chronic autoimmune disorder, primarily affecting the small intestine. It is caused by gluten intolerance.

Get A Grip On Your Allergies Today
Living with allergies or food intolerance doesn't have to be a lifetime of discomfort, pain, or fear. You can take control of your symptoms and improve your quality of life. Connect with specialists who understand the complexities of these conditions and can provide effective, personalised treatments to alleviate your symptoms.

Don't let allergies or food intolerance limit your potential. The first step to overcoming these challenges begins with an accurate diagnosis.

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