1. What is an allergy?
An allergy is an abnormally exaggerated reaction to an otherwise harmless protein-based substance in the environment causing the immune system to go into attack mode.
2. What things are most likely to cause allergies?
Harmless everyday things such as house dust mites, plant pollen, animal dandruff, mould spores, nuts, fish, egg, milk and certain medication (penicillin and anaesthetics).
3. Can I develop allergies at any age?
Most allergies develop in childhood; they may remain dormant until reactivated by re-exposure in adult life.
4. If both my partner and I have allergies, will our children also get allergies?
Allergies tend to be inherited, so having both parents as allergy sufferers leads to a 60% chance of your offspring having allergies
5. If I react to wasp stings, will each subsequent sting cause a worsening reaction?
There’s no predicting whether a future sting reaction will be less severe or even worse. But it’s more likely to occur with the same intensity.
6. If I have hay fever, will the medication affect my natural ability to fight the pollen?
No, hay fever medication is safe and will control symptoms, but won’t weaken your immune system. The same holds true for asthma and eczema medication.
7. What’s the difference between allergy and intolerance?
Allergy is an acute reaction with reddening, itching and swelling that involves the immune system and which can occasionally be life threatening (anaphylaxis). Intolerance is a non life-threatening reaction; the onset is usually slower in onset and does not involve the immune system. Intolerance reactions may cause sneezing from perfume, diarrhoea from oily fish or palpitations from coffee. Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest the cows milk sugar lactose.
8. Which are the most reliable allergy tests available?
Skin Prick Tests using extracts of allergens and blood RAST or allergen specific IgE tests are the most reliable tests for immediate allergic reactions, while Patch tests are reliable tests for delayed allergic hypersensitivity to chemicals, foods and metals.
9. If I am allergic to peanuts, will I react to all nuts?
Peanuts are legumes (bean family) and nuts grow on trees. They are different food families, but co-incidentally 50% of peanut allergic children also react to tree nuts and sesame seed. Different nuts have different protein content and potential to trigger an allergy.
10. Can asthma inhalers cause steroid side-effects such as thinning of bones and skin?
Asthma preventer inhalers contain a small amount of steroid (cortisone) but are very safe at the recommended dosages. They will not lead to thinning of bones, skin damage or stunted growth if used correctly
11. Can I cure my allergy?
Allergies are usually a life long affliction, they change with age and this is called the “Allergic March”. Children tend to get eczema and food allergies and grow into asthma, teenagers get hay fever and generally the older you get, the less problematic your allergies become. Milk and egg allergies tend to be outgrown, while fish and nut allergies tend to persist.
12. What is desensitisation immunotherapy?
Some allergies can be treated over a period of time by giving small amounts of the substance to which you are allergic. The allergen dose is then slowly built up causing immune tolerance (IgG antibodies) to develop. Grass pollen hay fever can be treated in this way by administering traces of pollen either under the tongue or by injection. The first trials for treating peanut allergy in this way are now underway. Beware, as unsupervised immunotherapy can be very dangerous and that is why this treatment was banned for 20 years in the UK.
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Written by Dr Adrian Morris
Last Reviewed 24th November 2022