Are spring allergies letting you down? Here are some facts and tips if you are a sufferer.

Firstly let’s see the facts and figures.

What is an allergy?

An allergy is an adverse reaction that the body has to a particular food or substance in the environment.

What cause allergies?

Most substances that cause allergies are not harmful and have no effect on people who are not allergic. Any substance that triggers an allergic reaction is called an allergen. Some of the most common allergens include:

  • grass and tree pollen (hay fever)
  • dust mites
  • animal dander (tiny flakes of skin or hair)
  • food allergy (particularly fruits, shellfish and nuts)

An allergy develops when the body’s immune system reacts to an allergen as though it is a threat, like an infection. It produces antibodies to fight off the allergen, in a reaction called the “immune response”.

The next time a person comes into contact with the allergen, the body “remembers” the previous exposure and produces more of the antibodies. This causes the release of chemicals in the body that lead to an allergic reaction.

Symptoms of an allergy can include sneezing, wheezing, itchy eyes, skin rashes and swelling.

The nature of the symptoms depends on the allergen. For example, you may experience problems with your airways if you breathe in pollen.

How common are allergies?

Allergies are very common. According to Allergy UK, one in four people in the UK suffers from an allergy at some point in their lives. The numbers are increasing every year and up to half of those affected are children. The reason for the rise is unclear.

Some experts believe it is associated with pollution. Another theory is that allergies are caused by living in a cleaner, germ-free environment, which reduces the number of germs our immune system has to deal with. This causes it to overreact when it comes into contact with harmless substances.

Seeing your GP

If you think you have an allergy, see your GP. Depending on your symptoms, the condition of your skin and any medication you are taking, you may be offered further tests to identify the allergen.

Managing an allergy

In some cases, the most effective way of managing an allergy is to avoid all contact with the allergen causing the reaction.

Medication

Most treatments are available over the counter such as:

  • Antihistamines
  • Decongestants
  • Leukotriene receptor antagonists
  • Steroid sprays

Hay fever

Hay fever is an allergy to pollen or spores which causes the inside of the nose to become inflamed. It often causes sneezing, a runny nose and itchy eyes and occurs most commonly in spring and summer.

How to avoid developing hay fever symptoms?

You can do this by reducing your exposure to pollen and spores. Tips include:

  • staying indoors when the pollen count is high (over 50)
  • keeping windows and doors shut
  • avoiding grassy areas
  • changing clothes or taking a shower after being outdoors, to help remove pollen from the body

Always ask your pharmacist or GP for advice before starting any new medication.