What is Allergy Awareness Week?
Run by Allergy UK, Allergy Awareness Week aims to raise the profile of what allergies are and how they can affect us on a day-to-day basis.
During the week, Allergy UK encourages people to get involved and show their support whether it’s through a fundraising event or simply spreading the word online and through social media.
What is an allergy?
People can be allergic to many things from dust to shellfish, but whatever the cause, the body’s reaction is similar.
An allergy happens when the immune system overreacts to some form of outside stimulus called an allergen. The body falsely identifies these substances as a threat and produces an immune response to fight them off.
The immune response produces antibodies and chemicals called histamines to fight the allergen. When that person comes into contact with the allergen again, the body remembers what happened last time and produces more antibodies and histamines into the body that produce the allergic reaction.
A typical allergic reaction could involve sneezing, wheezing, itchy eyes, skin rashes and swelling. However, in more severe cases the person could go into anaphylactic shock which can cause major blood vessels and airways to constrict, sometimes with fatal effects.
Most common allergies
- Foods – the most common food allergy is peanuts, but people can be allergic to a variety of food stuffs including shellfish, eggs, milk and various fruits. Symptoms can range from rashes and a swollen face to anaphylaxis. People who suffer from severe food allergies are encouraged to carry an EpiPen, which contains a dose of adrenaline.
- Particles – allergy to dust is not strictly speaking an allergy to the dust particles but to dust mites. This allergy is usually mild. Hay fever is also an allergy to particles from plants (see below).
- Animals – It’s not the hair on animals that causes the allergy but the dander – or saliva – that contains the proteins that cause the reaction. When animals groom themselves they transfer this to the hairs, which then shed. As the saliva dries the dander becomes airborne, making it easily consumed by passing humans.
Hay fever is one of the most common allergies in the UK, affecting 1 in 4 people through their lives. Symptoms can be mild and short-lived or more severe and last for weeks or months during spring, summer and even into autumn.
It’s especially common in children and teenagers, but can start to affect people at any age. However, a lot of people see their symptoms improve with age, with around 10% to 20% seeing hay fever disappear completely.
What is hay fever?
The official name is seasonal allergic rhinitis, but simply put it is an allergy to pollen.
When plants bloom and reproduce they release their pollen into the air. Caught by the wind, this pollen swirls around until it finds a place to land. If this is on a human, the protein contained in the pollen can cause an allergic reaction.
There are actually three different types of pollen – with each one affecting people at different times of the year.
- Tree pollen is released during spring
- Grass pollen is more common at the end of spring and start of summer
- Weed pollen can be around at any time from early spring to late autumn
As the pollen is usually ingested through the airways it is the nose, eyes, throat and sinuses that are affected first, becoming swollen, irritated and inflamed.
Symptoms usually include:
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Itchy eyes
Read more on hay fever here.
How to treat hay fever
The best way to tackle hay fever is through antihistamine medication. These work by blocking histamines, which are released by the body after it has been exposed to pollen.
Histamines are usually stored in ‘mast cells’, part of the immune system. When the allergic reaction happens, the mast cells leak histamines into the blood. Antihistamines block this reaction at sites in the skin, nose, blood vessels and airways.
Over-the-counter antihistamines are available. However, prescription products like Telfast can also be taken daily to help prevent and alleviate the symptoms.
You can request Telfast through our online service without having to see a doctor face-to-face.
You can buy a variety of eyes drops, nasal sprays and creams that can relieve symptoms over the counter at a pharmacy.
Non-medical measures include:
- Wearing wrap-around sunglasses
- Keeping windows closed especially first thing in the morning and last thing at night
- Having a shower and washing your hair after a day out to remove pollen grains trapped on skin and hair
- Putting some Vaseline inside your nostrils to trap some of the pollen