What is Causing Your Allergy?
Allergic reactions are caused by substances in the environment known as allergens. Almost anything can be an allergen for someone. Proteins are organic substances which contain hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, and form an important part of all living organisms. There are also found in food, along with fats, carbohydrates and other substances. However, only proteins can cause true allergic reactions.
The most common causes of allergic reactions are:
- pollen from trees and grasses
- proteins secreted from house dust mite
- foods such as peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs
- pets such as cats and dogs, and other furry or hairy animals such as horses, rabbits and guinea pigs
- insects like wasps and bees
- medicines (these may cause reactions by binding to proteins in the blood, which then trigger the reaction)
Similar reactions can occur to some chemicals and food additives, however if they do not involve the immune system, they are known as “adverse reactions” or “intolerances” rather than “allergy”.
What Happens When You Have an Allergic Reaction?
When a person who is allergic to a particular allergen comes into contact with it, an allergic reaction occurs. This begins when the allergen (for example, pollen) enters the body, triggering an antibody response. The antibodies attach themselves to special cells, including cells called mast cells. When the allergen comes into contact with the antibodies, these cells respond by releasing certain substances, one of which is called histamine. These substances cause swelling and inflammation of the surrounding tissues, which is extremely irritating and uncomfortable.
Common symptoms associated with allergic conditions include:
- Sinus pain
- Runny nose
- Nettle rash / hives
- Itchy eyes, ears, lips throat & palate (roof of mouth)
- Shortness of breath
- Sickness, vomiting, & diarrhoea
- Increase in nasal and airway secretions
If you are experiencing some of the symptoms mentioned above, this may indicate you have an allergy. If you think that you have an allergy or an intolerance there are a number of ways that you can go forward.
Our advice would be to contact your GP and ask for a referral to your nearest Allergy Specialist. You can find out who this is from our helpline, but you will still need to be referred by your GP.
Our Members' Nationwide Support Contact Network provides a valuable source of assistance for people with allergy. Members also receive an information pack of useful information on their particular allergy. Our Telephone Helpline is a source of information and immediate support.
How to Help Your Doctor Diagnose an Allergy
The first step in management of allergic disease is identifying the cause(s) of the problem. In some cases, this may be obvious. However, in other cases it may require detailed investigation and medical tests. Keeping a record of your symptoms may help medical professionals work out the allergen.
Diagnosing allergy can be difficult since the symptoms may be similar to other conditions. For instance, many people suffer from a repeated sore throat and runny nose which they think is a recurrent cold, when in fact they may be suffering from allergic rhinitis (hay fever). Allergy may be responsible for other conditions such as asthma, upset stomach and skin rashes.
If you think you may be allergic to something and do not know what it is, you should start to keep a record of your symptoms. This will help you to find out what you may be allergic to. Keep a diary of when your symptoms occur. In particular, the following information may help your doctor make a diagnosis:
- Do they occur at any particular time of the day?
- Do you only get symptoms at certain times of the year?
- Do you suffer more at night time or during the day?
- Are you symptoms linked to a particular place, i.e. home or work environment?
- Do your symptoms occur when you are in the house as well as outside?
- Does exposure to animals bring on your symptoms?
- Do you think that any food or drink brings on your symptoms?
Once the offending allergen is identified, avoidance measures can be taken and the most appropriate treatments can be commenced.