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28th January 2021

Allergies - What are they and when to seek a specialist?

What is an allergy? 

An allergy is an abnormal response of the body to substances like foods, pollens, house dust mite, and animal fur that are harmless for most people, but they trigger an allergic reaction in allergic individuals. 

What triggers allergic reactions?

The most common triggers of allergic reactions are: 

  • Foods like peanuts, tree nuts, cow’s milk, eggs, fish, soya, seeds 
  • Tree and grass pollens 
  • House dust mites 
  • Animal dander 
  • Moulds 
  • Wasp and bee stings 
  • Latex 
  • Drugs 

When someone comes in contact with a substance they are allergic to, their immune system responds by releasing chemical mediators (i.e. histamine) that induce allergic symptoms. 

How do you know when you have an allergic reaction? 

Usually, within 20 minutes from exposure to a substance, you develop symptoms like an itchy rash, swelling, sneezing, itchy and runny eyes, vomit. In more severe cases you may experience shortness of breath or dizziness. 

When to see an allergist? 

It is important that you see an allergist if you suspect you are allergic and especially if: 

  •  If you have a history of severe allergic reactions
  • When the symptoms of your allergy are not controlled by the treatment already prescribed by your GP
  • If you experience recurrent allergic reactions by an unknown trigger

An allergist will help you to understand whether your condition is allergic in nature and identify the trigger of your allergic reactions.

To confirm a diagnosis of allergy, the allergist will ask you a detailed personal medical history and the circumstances and presentation of your allergy symptoms. This is a very important first step as it informs the need for investigations, and which investigations are most appropriate in your case.

Investigations are usually in the form of a skin prick test and/or a blood test. 

With the investigation results, you will discuss with the allergist a detailed, personalised management plan that will help you to minimise the risk of future allergic reactions, recognise the allergy symptoms, know how to treat them and when to seek urgent medical attention. 

How to make the most of your allergy appointment 

In preparation for your allergy appointment, please take time to make a note of the circumstances, the timing of onset and manifestations of your suspected allergic reactions, and the treatment(s) that you have already tried. A picture of skin rashes or swellings usually proves very useful. 

Please make a note of the suspected trigger(s) of the allergic reaction. If you suspect a complex/packaged food, please bring along a list of its ingredients. 

Please also bring with you a list of all the medications and dosages that your GP has prescribed for you. 

To find more information about different types of allergic conditions, please visit the following websites: 

www.allergyuk.org 

www.anaphylaxis.org.uk 

www.bsaci.org 

Dr Cinzia Pastacaldi

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