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It appears that we're becoming more allergic to food, pollen, medicines and all kinds of substances. So are doctors just getting better at spotting the signs or is there something else going on?
Allergy UK says that 30-35% of the worldwide population will suffer from an allergy at some point, and there is an upwards trend of allergy sufferers. The trend began in the USA and Europe, but it's now affecting other countries undergoing industrialisation.
Experts think this rise is allergy could be due to increasing air pollution, a change in our diet towards more processed foods, or due to our sterile environments and the lack of exposure to germs in early childhood.
Whatever the reason, allergies can be serious and potentially life-threatening illnesses. Let's take a look at the different type of allergies out there and what can be done about them in honour of the USA's React with Respect food allergy awareness week, which takes place on the 8-14th May.
It's basically a massive overreaction with added drama; your immune system is freaking out. Normally the body's immune response is appropriate and it won't react to a harmless substance, however an allergy happens when the immune system sees something harmless as a threat, and produces an exaggerated response. How melodramatic, but joking aside, experts know how this happens, but not why.
When someone tells you about their allergy, don't panic and assume they'll burst into flames like someone opening the curtains on a vampire. Ask them questions but don't nag or judge. Accept it and move on, we're all different.
Here are some of the most common allergies and how to deal with them...
Food allergies come in many forms. Nuts and shellfish are probably the most commonly recognised, but people can be allergic to eggs, milk and even champagne. National treasure Stephen Fry is allergic to champagne and tennis superstar Serena Williams is allergic to peanuts, so if you have an allergy you're in good company.
Anaphylaxis - a swollen throat, breathing difficulties, swollen lips, feeling sick and a rapid heartbeat. This is a medical emergency and requires an ambulance. If you think you might have an allergy, it's important to see a doctor as soon as possible to get emergency medication such as an epi-pen. An epi-pen delivers a small amount of epinephrine to counteract the allergic response.
"Hold on! My aunt's ex boyfriend's stepmother is allergic to wheat" you say "but she doesn't need an ambulance?" That's because she has food intolerance, which is different.
Food intolerance is not caused by the immune system. It can come on slowly over a few hours or days unlike the massive and sudden allergy response. Food intolerance, such as gluten (wheat) intolerance, won't kill anyone but it can produce symptoms such as bloating, diarrhoea, irritable bowel, nausea, lethargy, skin rashes, and fatigue. Needless to say, if these symptoms cause distress or worsen, it's important to seek medical advice. Food intolerance can make life miserable.
In the meantime, you can do some undercover work to find out what's causing the problem. It's a simple as a food diary...
You keep a note of what time you've eaten or snacked on food and record symptoms over the following few days. It's important to only cut out one source at time e.g. dairy or wheat to avoid confusion.
Humans have lived with animals for years but for some, their saliva, sweat and urine can cause an allergic reaction.
When an animal grooms itself, saliva coats their skin and hair. When they shed or moult, this 'dander' spreads around the home causing allergies such as skin rashes, itchy eyes, sneezing, and even triggering asthma in prone individuals. You can make things better by:
Hay fever, medically known as allergic rhinitis, is an allergy to pollen.
Hay fever can rear its itchy head anytime the trees, grass and flowers are blooming. Grass is the most common trigger usually affecting people between May and July when pollen is released. For some who are allergic to other plants, the hayfever season can start as early as February (that's me - an allergy to pine tree pollen) or as late as October for those with plant mould issues. Antihistamines can help - here are some more tips:
Allergies can range from the irritating right through to life-threatening. The trick is to do your research and be prepared. Ask your doctor for help if you can't pinpoint a cause or find a suitable treatment. Allergy is common and there are plenty of ways to keep yourself safe and make your life more comfortable.