It’s the time of year when many of us start to notice the tell-tale signs of allergy. Streaming eyes and runny noses signal the start of spring as we reach for the hayfever tablets, trying to keep the pollen-induced sneezing at bay.
But allergies aren’t confined to a single season. Although those of us that suffer with reactions to pollen tend to notice our allergies most in spring, for others with sensitivity to certain foods or chemicals, being careful of exposure is a year-round battle.
For allergy awareness week, we’re taking a closer look at the condition which affects around 1 in 4 people in the UK.
What is an allergy?
An allergy is an immune response the body has to a particular food or substance.
Allergies are thought to affect more than 1 in 4 people at some point in their lives and are particularly common in children. While some allergies go away as a child gets older, many are lifelong. It’s also possible for adults to develop allergies to things that they didn’t previously react to.
Having an allergy can be frustrating and can affect your everyday activities, but generally most allergic reactions are mild and can be largely kept under control with over-the-counter medication. Severe reactions are much less common.
'Typically, allergic reactions happen quickly, within minutes of being exposed to an allergen'
What are the symptoms of an allergy?
Typically, allergic reactions happen quickly, within minutes of being exposed to an allergen. The symptoms can include:
- a red, itchy rash
- a runny or blocked nose
- red, itchy, watery eyes
- wheezing and coughing
- worsening of asthma or eczema symptoms
Most allergic reactions are mild, but occasionally a severe reaction called anaphylaxis can occur. If this happens, medical treatment is required immediately. Most people who know that they are at risk of a severe reaction carry an Epi-Pen so that they can administer treatment straight away after exposure to an allergen.
What causes an allergic reaction?
Allergies occur when the body's immune system reacts to a particular substance, mistakenly believing it’s a threat. Why this happens isn’t clear, but most people who suffer with allergies tend to have a family history or have closely related conditions, such as asthma or eczema.
The substances that cause allergic reactions most commonly include:
Household pets can be a common source of allergy, triggering reactions to their fur, skin, or saliva. This is most common with cats and dogs.
There are several recognised allergens which, by law, must be listed on food packaging. These include celery, cereals containing gluten, crustaceans (such as prawns, crabs, and lobsters), eggs, fish, lupin, milk, molluscs (such as mussels and oysters), mustard, peanuts, sesame, soybeans, sulphur dioxide and sulphites
Bugs such as dust mites, wasps and bees are commonly associated with allergy. The venom in some insect bites or the sting from a bee or wasp can result in a reaction, which may be mild, or more severe.
A latex allergy is when your body’s immune system overreacts to certain kinds of proteins found in natural rubber latex that’s used to make things like rubber gloves, condoms, and some medical devices.
Certain grasses or the pollen of trees and plants can cause allergic reactions. The severity of this can be linked to the seasons.
Managing your allergies
In many cases, the best way to manage an allergy is to avoid the allergen that causes the reaction whenever possible. So, if you have a food allergy, you should check the ingredients list for allergens. But with the best will in the world, it’s not possible to always avoid the triggers that cause an allergic reaction.
To help calm the reaction caused by exposure to an allergen, there are various medicines available to help control the symptoms, including:
- Antihistamines. These can be taken when you notice the symptoms of a reaction, or before being exposed to an allergen, to stop a reaction happening.
- Decongestants. Available in tablet, capsule, or nasal spray form, these can be used as a short-term treatment for a blocked nose.
- Lotions and creams. Topical medicines such as moisturising creams can reduce skin redness and itchiness.
- Steroids. Administered through sprays, drops, creams, inhalers, or tablets, steroids can help reduce redness and swelling caused by an allergic reaction.
Private testing for allergies in London
If you often find yourself often reacting to something, but you’ve not been able to pinpoint the exact cause, you might want to consider allergy testing to help you better understand what to look out for and avoid.
At Blood Tests London we offer a comprehensive range of blood testing options for allergies, both standalone, and as part of a larger profile of diagnostic checks to help you get a complete picture of your health.
These include diagnostic checks for allergic reactions to:
And other common allergens
Booking your private allergy blood test in London
We make sure the experience of booking a private allergy blood test in London is as easy, convenient, and painless as possible. After you have selected the right test for you, simply order online through our secure payment system or chat to a member of our team.
Once your order is placed, you can attend our central London walk-in clinic to have your blood taken by one of our expert phlebotomists. This guarantees that your blood samples are taken and handled correctly and that your results are processed efficiently by clinical professionals.
At your appointment, the friendly team will talk to you about your test, collect your blood sample and send it off for testing at an accredited partner laboratory. All you need to do is arrive for your blood draw.
Once your sample is processed, the results will be sent to you via email, detailing your specific allergy profile and giving you all the information you need to avoid reactions in the future.