Firstly, Why Are Allergies On The Rise?
One of the reasons is the ‘hygiene hypothesis.’ The ‘hygiene hypothesis’ suggests that decreased exposure to infections or microbes in early life can lead to an increased chance of allergies in later life, because of individuals not having built up immunity at a young age. Vitamin D plays a key role in developing strong immune systems, therefore vitamin D deficiencies, are also thought to increase the risk of individuals developing allergies, particularly asthma and allergic rhinitis. Bizarrely, there has also been research to show the further you live away from the equator, the more likely you are to develop a food allergy.
So, Which Allergies Are The Most Common?
- HAYFEVER: One of the most common is hayfever, also known as seasonal rhinitis, which is an allergy to grass and tree pollen. A reported reason for the rise in this allergy and reactions to substances such as mould and dust mites, is climate change. Warmer, humid conditions and changes to the environment have been reported to have an impact on the symptoms. Further to this, the extended seasons can not only increase hayfever, but prolong the amount of time people experience their symptoms. Hayfever occurs when the body makes allergic antibodies to certain substances, which are known as allergens. It occurs mainly as a reaction to pollen from grass, trees and weeds during the early spring and summer months. Hayfever affects between 10-30% of adults in the UK, and 40% of children.
FOOD: Another common allergy group is food, whereby the body’s immune system reacts to specific foods. The most common foods to be allergic to are milk, eggs, peanuts and shellfish. It is estimated that approximately two million people in the UK have a food allergy. Some research shows that overuse of antibiotics at a young age can sometimes lead to an increase in food allergies, too. This is due to antibiotics changing the composition of gut flora, which is critical for developing the body’s tolerance to foreign proteins in food.
MEDICATION: Medications are also amongst the three leading causes of allergic reactions in the UK, and there is evidence that these allergies are becoming more frequent. It is thought that half a million people visit hospitals each year because of having an allergy to medication. One of the most common medicines that causes an allergy is penicillin.
ANIMAL ALLERGIES: Animal allergies are also extremely common in the UK. Contrary to popular belief, it is not pet fur that causes the allergen, but ‘animal dander’ which consists of tiny flakes of skin or hair. Animal allergies are said to effect between 10-20% of people, with cats and dog allergies being the most prevalent.
HOUSEHOLD PRODUCTS: Whilst allergies are traditionally a reaction to a natural substance, some people may experience a reaction to household cleaning products. Yet, there is an argument to say that whilst it appears as an allergic reaction, it is just irritation. Nonetheless, it is thought that 8% of adults have some form of this contact ‘allergy.’ On the other hand, chemicals in household cleaning products can aggravate existing allergies such as asthma and eczema.
How Do You Know If You Have An Allergy?
There are many different warning signs of allergies to look out for, but the most common symptoms and signs include sneezing, having a runny or blocked nose, having red itchy watery eyes, wheezing and coughing. Another common reaction is coming up in a red itchy rash and or experiencing symptoms of asthma or eczema. If you’re concerned that you may have an allergy, it could be beneficial to create a diary and note down your symptoms, including what they are and when they occur. You may then be able to see a pattern of symptoms after you eat particular food or first thing in the morning. This will help you understand what may be causing your allergic reaction. Food allergies often have slightly different symptoms whereby signs may include an itchy sensation inside the mouth, throat or ears, a raised itchy red rash and swelling which may be on the face, around the eyes, lips, tongue and roof of the mouth. Further to this, vomiting after eating certain food groups may indicate an allergy.
Can You Prevent Allergies From Happening In The First Place?
It’s difficult to avoid allergies, as they are often hereditary, however there are ways you can help prevent an allergic reaction. If you have hayfever, your allergies will be worse when the pollen count is high, so try and stay indoors when the count is high and avoid drying clothes and bedding outside. If you have a food allergy, you should always read the ingredients list on any food you purchase and if you’re out for dinner you should always let the restaurant know about your allergies. It is thought that you can limit and delay childhood allergies, by adjusting your diet whilst pregnant and breastfeeding. As for pet allergy’s, if you’re visiting friends who have pets, ask if they can limit their pet to one room for the duration of your visit. It may also be wise to keep the doors and windows open for good ventilation. With all severe allergies, it can be beneficial to wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace, which will let people know that you have a serious allergy; this can be critical if you have a reaction and are unable to communicate. Try to have a written anaphylaxis emergency action plan which you carry with you in case you have allergic symptoms or a severe allergic reaction.
Finally, Who’s Most At Risk Of Allergies?
Interestingly, no one is born with a food allergy. Experts claim that for an allergy to develop, your body needs to be exposed to the allergen. Allergies can also be genetic, therefore if your parents have allergies, it’s more likely that you might have them, too. However, it’s worth noting that your allergies could be different to your parent’s ones. Allergies are known to affect 30-35% of all children and 30% of adults. The most commonly affected are women and younger adults (under 35) whereas pensioners are the least likely to have an allergy. Hayfever, animal allergies and food allergies are the most common to get in childhood, but there is research to show that young children with common food allergies are more likely to grow out of them, compared to those experiencing them later in life.
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