If you often suffer from a runny nose, congested nose, sneezing, nose itch and irritated eyes it might be that you are allergic to something in your environment, for example pollen, dogs or cats. Each year in the UK the number of allergy sufferers increases by 5%1. The symptoms vary depending on what kind of allergy you have, how sensitive you are and how exposed you were to the irritating substance or allergen. Some mistake the symptoms for a prolonged cold, but if the symptoms remain for several weeks they may actually be caused by an allergy.
Allergy symptoms may cause you to feel weak and tired in school or at work, and many experience concentration difficulties. To avoid problems and for you to be able to live as normally as possible, it is therefore important to find out the cause of your symptoms. First and foremost, you should avoid what you are intolerant to. In addition, make sure to get an allergy treatment that works and alleviates your symptoms. If your problems are light, you will often find a medicine that helps from a pharmacy. If the pharmacy does not have anything to relieve the symptoms, it is important that you go to a doctor to try out a prescription treatment.
Allergy diseases are usually divided into different groups, depending on which part of the body is affected.
Hay fever/Allergic rhinitis: Appears when an allergen sticks to the mucous membrane of the nose and causes classic allergy symptoms such as repeated sneezing, a runny nose, a stuffed nose, nose itch and itchy and runny eyes. The most common cause behind seasonal hay fever is allergy to pollen coming from birch and grass. Rhinitis that continues all year around (perennial rhinitis) is often caused by allergies to pets or dust mites.
Allergic conjunctivitis: A reaction of the eyes to an allergen causing them to become inflamed, often followed by rhinitis. Itchy, red, runny and swollen eyes are common symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis, which often occurs during the pollen season but can emerge all year around. The inflammation can, amongst other things, be caused by pollen, dust mites or pets such as dogs, cats, rabbits, horses or guinea pigs.
Atopic dermatitis: Is also called atopic eczema and often appears as an itchy red rash on the face, elbows and knees, which may lead to flaky peeling skin. Eczema can either be wet or very dry. Airborne allergens coming from pets or contact with allergy provoking substances like nickel, and certain foods may trigger the problems or make them deteriorate, especially in small children. Some foods that cause allergies are milk, eggs, wheat, soy, nuts and fish.
Urticaria: Also called nettle rash or hives, and is characteried by one or more pale red raised marks on the skin which itches. The hives may vary in shape and size, sometimes there is only one and sometimes they appear in groups. Nettle rash can be triggered by a variety of different factors - an infection, stomach problems or food allergy. Watch out for numbness of your tongue or lips, or if your face is getting red - that might mean that the rash is developing into allergic shock.
Asthma: Asthma is a chronic pulmonary disease that can manifest itself as breathing difficulties, wheezing or hissing noises from the chest, shortness of breath and lingering cough. If you are allergic to pollen, pets, dust mites or certain foods the risk of developing asthma is especially high. Tobacco smoke, cold air and exertion can also aggravate asthma symptoms.
Anaphylaxis: Allergy to certain foods, insect bites, medicines or latex may, in rare cases, lead to an allergic shock which in a worst case scenario could be life threatening. This is also called an anaphylactic shock and involves the blood vessels expanding significantly and a dramatic lowering of blood pressure as a result of having ingested a substance that is not tolerated by the body. In addition to the drop in blood pressure, symptoms of anaphylaxis might be itching, nettle-rash, swollen lips, eyes, mouth and throat, nausea, vomiting, breathing difficulties and unconsciousness. The symptoms can quickly lead to an emergency and require immediate treatment.
Gastrointestinal symptoms: Food allergies can lead to diarrhoea, stomach pains, weight loss, nausea and vomiting in both children and adults. Children up to three years old are often allergic to eggs, milk, wheat and soya beans. When it comes to older children and adults it is usually eggs, milk, seafood, wheat, peanuts and tree nuts, as well as fruits and vegetables that trigger the problems.
1. https://www.allergyuk.org/allergy-statistics/allergy-statistics. Date accessed November 2015.
UK/GEN/15/0057d Date of preparation: December 2015