Allergy awareness week starts on April 20th its aim is to educate the public about food allergies that are life changing and can be fatal.
The latest surveys show that the rates of allergy are increasing throughout the world, affecting up to 30-35% of people at some stage in their lives. However, recent studies have confirmed a significant increase in the incidence of food allergies, in particular amongst children. In the UK, it is estimated that up to 50% of children are diagnosed with an allergic condition.
What is allergy?
The term ‘allergy’ is used to describe a reaction by the body’s immune system to a substance, which for most people, is harmless. An allergic person’s immune system believes allergens to be damaging and so produces a special type of antibody (IgE) to attack the invading material. This leads other blood cells to release further chemicals (including histamine) which together cause the
symptoms of an allergic reaction.
What are the symptoms of an allergic reaction?
Allergy aggravates sense of smell, sight, taste and touch, causing irritation, extreme disability and in the worst cases, fatality. Allergy is also a trigger for diseases such as asthma and eczema in a
predisposed person. An allergic reaction can cause symptoms such as a runny nose, itchy eyes and palate to skin rashes.
How common is allergy in the UK?
Allergy is widespread in the UK with around 21 million adults suffering from at least one allergy. But the number of sufferers continues to rise. Each year, allergy sufferers are increasing by 5% with half of all those affected being children.
What is the most common allergy?
‘Seasonal allergic rhinitis’ or hayfever is considered the most common allergy with one in four of the UK population suffering. Rhinitis is inflammation of the nose, which is recognized by symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, blocked/stuffy nose, itching and ‘post-nasal drip’ (mucus running down the back of the throat). Grass pollen is the most common allergen, which affects sufferers at the specific times of the year when grass pollen is released (May to July). However some people become allergic to tree or weed and shrub pollens, and will therefore be affected at different times of the year (February to June for trees; September and October for weeds).
Where should people suffering from an allergy go?
Visit your GP and ask for a referral to an allergy consultant in a specialist allergy clinic. The Allergy UK helpline can also offer advice and provide details of the nearest allergy clinic to help in the
Can you cure an allergy?
There is no cure as such for allergy, avoidance techniques are the most important aspect of keeping an allergy under control, but it is not always possible to avoid things like pollen or house dust mite. Many practical approaches will help reduce the symptoms and may avoid the need for medication.
What is the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance?
Food allergy and food intolerance are often confused. Symptoms of severe food allergic reaction are often immediate and include: tingling of the lips, swelling of the lips/tongue/throat, projectile vomiting, difficulty in breathing, faintness and collapsing. Food intolerance or sensitivity, however, is a collective name for a group of symptoms and illnesses connected to food. Typical symptoms of food intolerance are often delayed and include: bloating, nausea, an urgent need to go to the toilet, migraine/headaches, skin rashes, joint pain, runny nose and IBS.
Top tips for allergy sufferers
- Until all labels have changed, you will continue to see old and new labels on food products. To make sure you have the correct information, always check the ingredients list of a product to find out what allergens it contains.
- When eating out, let the person serving you know your dietary requirements, including how severe your food allergy or intolerance is. If booking in advance, it may help to mention your requirements when making the booking.
- Always check what allergens are in the dish even if you have eaten it before, as recipes and ingredients can change.
- If you are not sure about a dish or about the information you have been provided, don’t risk it! Don’t order the dish or eat at the premises.
- Enjoy a varied diet. Choose foods to replace the ones you must avoid. See a dietitian for advice if you are concerned about your diet.
- Always carry your prescribed allergy rescue medication with you and ensure family and friends know how to use it on you, if necessary.
- If you are having a severe allergic reaction you should not be moved. Make sure your family or friends know they have to call 999 for an ambulance and a paramedic, if needed. They must tell the emergency operator that the patient has anaphylaxis (pronounced ana-fill-axis).