What is Allergy?
The term allergy is used to describe a response, within the body, to a substance, which is not necessarily harmful in itself, but results in an immune response and a reaction that causes symptoms and disease in a predisposed person, which in turn can cause inconvenience, or a great deal of misery.
An allergy is everything from a runny nose, itchy eyes and palate to skin rash. It aggravates the sense of smell, sight, tastes and touch causing irritation, extreme disability and sometimes fatality. It occurs when the body’s immune system overreacts to normally harmless substances.
Allergy is widespread and affects approximately one in four of the population in the UK at some time in their lives. Each year the numbers are increasing by 5% with as many as half of all those affected being children.
What causes an Allergy ?
Allergic reactions are caused by substances in the environment known as allergens. Almost anything can be an allergen for someone. Allergens contain protein, which is often regarded as a constituent of the food we we eat.
In fact it is an organic compound, containing hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, which form an important part of living organisms.
The most common allergens are:
pollen from trees and grasses, house dust mite, moulds, pets such as cats and dogs, insects like wasps and bees, industrial and household chemicals, medicines, and foods such as milk and eggs.
Less common allergens include nuts, fruit and latex.
There are some non-protein allergens which include drugs such as penicillin. For these to cause an allergic response they need to be bound to a protein once they are in the body.
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.
The most common symptoms are:
sneezing , runny nose, itchy eyes and ears, severe wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, sinus problems, a sore palate and nettle-like rash.
It should be understood that all the symptoms mentioned can be caused by factors other than allergy. Indeed some of the conditions are diseases in themselves.
When asthma, eczema, headaches, lethargy, loss of concentration and sensitivity to everyday foods such as cheese, fish and fruit are taken into account the full scale of allergy be appreciated.
Around 33% (1 in 3) of the population will at sometime in their life see a doctor because of an allergy and in consequence allergy testing is becoming increasingly sophisticated.
The type of test to be carried out will depend upon your symptoms or the condition of your skin.
- Blood Test
- Skin Prick Test
- Patch Test
- Other Tests
A survey of 6,000 people in the UK, carried out in May 2003 by Allergy UK, (A Medical Charity founded in 1991) showed 69.8% either had or had a close relative suffering from some kind of food intolerance or allergy. Also 50% had children of whom 39.2% also suffered from allergic complaints.
Recent media and government research into the causes of obesity have shown that there has been a dramatic increase in the last 30 years in the consumption of junk food and refined foods. This is leading to thousands of people developing food sensitivities and intolerances.
Complaints that may be due to food intolerance or allergy:
- weight problems
- sinus congestion
- digestive disorders
Kindly provided by Allergy UK and Allergy Test UK.
Allergy Testing Links:
Allergy UK – the leading Medical Charity for People with Allergy, Food Intolerance & Chemical Sensitivity.
All Allergy – information on Asthma, Allergy and Intolerance.