Living With Allergy
This page contains information about living with allergy, such as immunisations, treatment and finding support. You can also find information about being allergy aware, travelling with allergies and to advise family & friends on your child's allergic condition. All factsheets are downloadable at the bottom of this page.
Living with allergy brings with it some significant challenges for both adults and children as it can affect every aspect of life from school and work to holidays and socialising.
It has an impact on families and friends too, particularly parents who live with the stress and worry of protecting their child from serious allergic reactions when they are away from home, at school or with friends.
The search for a diagnosis can be a challenge in itself and it can be important to understand the role of specific health professionals on the road to effective treatment.
Antihistamines are probably the best known type of allergy medication, and most are readily available from a pharmacy without prescription. However, there are a number of different types of antihistamines; some have been used for many years, some are improvements on old drugs, and new antihistamines are being developed all the time.
While antihistamines used to have a reputation for making people drowsy, more modern antihistamines only occasionally have those side effects.
How they work
During an allergic reaction, the immune system releases a chemical called histamine which starts a cascade effect of allergy symptoms. The histamine itself can lead to narrowing of airways and widening of blood vessels causing swelling or oedema (where fluid leaks into the surrounding tissue) or a drop in blood pressure. The effect of histamine in the tissues is also responsible for the itching that is associated with many allergic reactions.
Antihistamines work by blocking the action of histamine. They work best when taken prior to exposure to the allergen. However, they can also be taken after an allergic reaction has started, and this is useful for blocking the release of further histamine, reducing new symptoms.
Antihistamines are very safe. Although usually taken as tablets, they may be prescribed as a liquid or syrup for young children, or in cream form, which is very popular in first aid kits in case of insect bites or stings. Nasal sprays and eye drops containing antihistamine properties are also available, and are very useful for soothing irritated noses and eyes.
For more information on aspects of living with allergy please browse our fact sheets
Allergy and Career Choices
Some occupations, such as the Armed Forces, the Police, or factory environments may have certain requirements for people with particular allergies. If you have an allergy and are worried about the impact it will have on your job, contact our Helpline for advice. For more information on allergy and the Armed Forces, please download our allergy and the military Factsheet below.