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Allergies: Just The Facts

Understanding what they are

What’s an allergy?

An allergy is a reaction that the body has to a particular food or substance.

Allergies are really common, with over 20% of the population affected by one or more allergy.

They’re most common in children. Some allergies go away as a child gets older, although many are lifelong. People can develop allergies at any age to things they weren’t previously allergic to.

Having an allergy can affect your everyday activities, but most allergic reactions are mild and can be largely kept under control. Severe reactions can occasionally occur, but these are uncommon.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction

Allergic reactions usually happen quickly within a few minutes of exposure to an allergen (trigger) which makes your body respond.

Some of these allergens cause sneezing, a runny nose, itchy eyes and ears, and a sore throat. Other allergens, such as foods, may cause hives (a red, bumpy, itchy skin rash), a stuffy nose, stomach cramps, vomiting, or diarrhoea.

Less often, allergens can cause breathing problems like wheezing and shortness of breath (asthma). Some allergens are a problem all year long, but others might only bother people during certain seasons. For instance, you might be allergic to pollen from trees, which is present in the air only in the spring.

Overview of symptoms

  • sneezing
  • a runny or blocked nose
  • red, itchy, watery eyes
  • wheezing and coughing
  • a red, itchy rash
  • worsening of asthma or eczema symptoms

Most allergic reactions are mild, but occasionally a severe reaction called anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock can occur. This is a medical emergency and needs urgent treatment.

If you have a potentially life-threatening reaction—trouble breathing, dizziness and fainting—seek immediate medical care by calling 999.

Getting help for allergies

  1. See your GP or pharmacist if you think you might have had an allergic reaction to something.
  2. The symptoms of an allergic reaction can also be caused by other conditions. Your GP can help determine whether it’s likely you have an allergy.
  3. If your GP thinks you might have a mild allergy, they can offer advice and treatment to help manage the condition.
  4. If your allergy is particularly severe or it’s not clear what you’re allergic to, your GP may refer you to an allergy specialist for testing and advice about treatment.

How to get help

If you have any more questions on this area or would like to speak to somebody about this topic, have a look at the links or search for your local services in the blue box below. Alternatively you can always contact your school nurse.

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