About Allergies & Other Sensitivities

Allergies & Other Sensitivities

An allergy occurs when our body has a bad reaction to a particular food or outside substance such as pollen or dust. According to Allergy UK one in four of us will develop an allergy during our lives.


  • Runny nose
  • Itchy eyes
  • Skin rash/hives
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Drop in blood pressure

What causes allergies?

When we have an allergy it means our immune system has misidentified something harmless as an attacker. As a result, it produces antibodies to detect and destroy the perceived threat. The next time we encounter the same trigger it repeats its attack producing yet more antibodies and chemicals. One of the chemicals it releases is called ?histamine' and it's this that causes the symptoms associated with an allergic reaction such as a runny nose, itchy eyes, skin rash, vomiting, difficulty breathing or a drop in blood pressure. Severe allergic reactions are termed ''anaphylaxis" and can be life-threatening.

Common allergens (the substance that triggers an allergic reaction) include pollen, house dust mites, nuts, eggs, latex, wasp stings and animal dander.

Do I have an allergy?

The nature of your symptoms will depend on how the allergy has been caused.

Asthma occurs when you come into contact with something that irritates your lungs causing your airways to become narrow.

Eczema flares up when an allergen irritates your skin making it itchy, red and cracked.

Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen which causes the nose, eyes, throat and sinuses to become irritated and inflamed.

Sometimes a person says they have an allergy when they are actually ?intolerant' to a substance (such as lactose) or else have a ?sensitivity' to it. These are not actual allergies as they do not involve the immune system. An intolerance involves an unpleasant side effect such as diarrhoea. A sensitivity is where something causes a normal but exaggerated reaction like suffering palpitations after drinking coffee.

How are allergies treated?

Minor allergies can be treated with over-the-counter remedies such as antihistamines.

For more severe allergies a GP can prescribe other anti allergy medication. A skin test may be offered to help identify the allergens responsible. People with a history of a severe allergic reaction may carry an adrenaline injection to use in emergencies.

Avoid things you know trigger your allergies.

Alternative remedies/self-help

  • Acupuncture is widely used to treat allergic conditions. Research on its effectiveness is limited but it may help asthma (*Allergy UK)
  • Herbal medicine is used to treat both eczema and asthma. There is some evidence that this may be effective (*Allergy UK)
  • Homeopathy is often used for allergies - evidence on its effectiveness is limited