Allergies Guide

In the United Kingdom 1 out of 4 people is affected by some form of allergy. An allergy is any response by the body’s immune system to a wide variety of different substances known as allergens. Allergens are anything that can cause an immune reaction within the body. Examples include: foods, pollen, dust, medicines and dust mites.

As the body’s first line of defence against disease and infection, the immune system plays a vital role in health and wellbeing. It consists of many different types of proteins, cells, organs and tissues and encompasses a wide variety of biological processes that work together to identify and destroy any harmful foreign cells or substances the body does not recognise. For allergy sufferers, as soon as the body comes into contact with an allergen the immune system springs into action and starts off the appropriate allergic response.

An Allergic Response

Once the body identifies an allergen, the immune system reacts by releasing certain chemicals into the bloodstream such as a specific type of antibody, immunoglobulin E (IgE) and histamines. IgE starts an immune response by binding to specific types of receptors found on the surface of mast cells and basophils. Once bound, the mast cells and basophils become primed to release histamines and certain other chemicals. The release of these chemicals cause many of the symptoms associated with allergic responses. The cells are found in connective tissue throughout the body. Mast cells are especially numerous at potential injury sites such as the nose, mouth, feet, internal body surfaces, and blood vessels. Histamines increase the ability of the basophils, mast cells and other proteins to move into the capillaries in order to allow them to move easily around the body and get to the affected tissues. Histamines can help the immune system fight off an allergic reaction in different ways. Once the allergen is targeted, histamines can bind to them and prevent them from entering into other cells and causing damage. They can also coat the allergen and alert different cells, called macrophages, to come and destroy them.

Symptoms of Allergies

Symptoms of an allergic reaction can range from mild, such as a small rash, to the extreme, such as anaphylaxis and even death. Depending on how you come into contact with an allergen, i.e. touching something, ingesting it, breathing it in, will dictate where the allergic response takes place. The most common symptoms include: coughing, itching, rash, swelling, impaired breathing, runny nose and nausea. The onset of symptoms varies and can be anything from minutes to hours.

Treatment for Allergies

There are many different ways to treat allergies and control allergies ranging from tablets and injections to diet and lifestyle modifications. The best way to avoid an allergic response is to identify and avoid the allergy causing agents.

Although allergic responses have been well researched and documented, it is still not understood why some allergy sufferers develop such extreme allergic responses while others simply suffer a runny nose.

Most Common Allergies »