Allergies are problems of the immune system. Most allergic reactions happen when the immune system reacts to a foreign substance – such as tree, grass, and weed pollens, latex, moulds, dust mites, foods, medicines and more.

Your immune system wrongfully identifies the allergen as harmful, which causes your system to create antibodies to fight the “threat”. This reaction can cause anything from minor irritations (like inflamed skin) to life-threatening anaphylaxis. [Read more]

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Allergies / 25 October 2021

What Are Allergies?

Our bodies immune systems don’t always work the way they should. Our immune systems can mistakenly react to something touched or consumed, that in other people is harmless, and produce an allergic response to it.

Children are more susceptible to allergies, but less commonly, adults can develop allergies that they never experienced as a child.

How do you know if you’re having an allergic reaction to something?

Symptoms of allergies can vary and can range in severity from mildly inconvenient to life-threatening.

There are a number of common factors that cause allergies, some are known to produce severe reactions in people.

Common types of allergens include:

  • Pharmaceutical drugs: Penicillin
  • Food: Shellfish, peanuts, dairy, and eggs
  • Insect stings: Mosquitoes, bees and wasps
  • Plants: Pollen, grass, tree resin from poison ivy
  • Materials: Latex and some metals

Here’s some more detail on these;

Pharmaceutical drugs: Penicillin

Penicillin is a common antibiotic used to treat infections.

Some people’s immune systems have an abnormal reaction to it which can cause swelling, hives, a rash or in rare cases anaphylaxis, which can be fatal.

Food allergies

Food allergies can trigger a number of different reactions. These can range from mild nausea or bloating to swelling (this is dangerous because it can include the throat which inhibits breathing), hives, rashes and others.

Not all people react immediately. So, if you react badly to a meal even after a little while, it’s important to get medical attention immediately and try to remember everything that you ate or drank that day, so you can be treated quickly.

  • Peanuts

Peanuts are a common and dangerous food allergy caused by a particular protein. It affects around 2% of children just in the UK alone. It usually appears in early childhood but can also develop in adulthood. Some children’s reaction to peanuts is severe enough to be caused just by coming into contact with them, and not necessarily consuming them.

  • Cow’s Milk

Allergies to cow’s milk commonly affect babies and young children. Most outgrow it around the age of 5 although some people never outgrow it.  Milk can be found in a number of food items, so may be difficult to pinpoint the cause of the symptoms, initially.

  • Eggs

Like milk, eggs can be found in all forms as well as in different foods. Some people may be allergic to raw egg or cooked egg only, so there is no need to steer clear of all food containing egg, just the type containing the form you have an allergic reaction to.

  • Shellfish

People who are allergic to shellfish have an immune system that reacts to a protein called tropomyosin. These reactions can occur immediately after eating or a few hours. Symptoms vary but are commonly stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, and swelling of the tongue, lips, throat or the whole face. An allergy to shellfish can be lethal if not treated very quickly.

Insect stings

Most people who are stung by bees, wasps or mosquitos have a mild reaction such as swelling, redness and itchiness. In some cases, there can be a severe reaction that causes wheezing or difficulty breathing, face and throat swelling, increase in heart rate or dizziness. Anyone with any one of these reactions should be given emergency medical attention.


Pollen is a common cause of allergies like hay fever, these are also known as seasonal allergies. These are more prevalent as the seasons change, particularly winter to spring and symptoms may include:

  • runny nose
  • stuffy sinuses
  • watery or itchy eyes
  • coughing

Some plants like grasses can cause allergic reactions like rashes and itchiness. However, some plant species can cause deadly reactions if they are touched or swallowed.


Latex: Symptoms of allergic reaction to latex, like gloves or condoms, usually appear almost immediately after it touches the skin, and include an itchy rash, hives, nasal stuffiness or runny nose. In rare cases, it can cause wheezing, tightness in the chest and difficulty breathing.

Metal: Nickel is a metal often found in jewellery and can cause a rash and itchiness

Symptoms to look out for

Skin reactions are usually a sure sign of an allergic reaction. If food allergies, you may see a rash developing or experience itchiness or tingling sensation in your mouth and throat.

When something comes into contact with your skin and causes a reaction, there is a range of allergic reactions to look out for:

  • Rash
  • Sore throat
  • Eczema
  • Itchy or burning skin
  • Hives
  • Watery or puffy, swollen eyes

Allergy treatments

The type of treatment given will depend on the type of reaction you are having. Prescription or over-the-counter antihistamine treats common symptoms of allergies.

In severe allergic reactions, an adrenalin auto-injector device that contains the drug epinephrine is used to counter anaphylaxis which is a deadly allergic reaction.

These types of reactions can occur in anyone at any time, but these reactions are mostly linked to bee stings, shellfish, and peanut allergies. Symptoms include breathlessness or difficulty breathing, light-headedness and loss of consciousness. Anyone experiencing any of these needs urgent medical attention. Most people with a known severe allergic response will carry an EpiPen at all times.

Anyone, even a non-medical professional by law can administer an auto-injectable if a person is having a severe allergic reaction with anaphylaxis symptoms. This must be injected into the outer thigh, through their clothing, if necessary.


Immunotherapy can be used for people whose allergic symptoms are a hindrance to their lives. This is not for anyone with a phobia of needles, as it requires several injections over the course of a few years to build up the bodies immune response and if successful reduces or eliminates symptoms.

Rare allergic reactions

While most things that cause allergic reactions can be avoided, there are some instances of rare allergic reactions to things that are not so easy to steer clear of.

Some of the world’s rarest recorded allergies include:

  • Water: Aquagenic urticaria is a condition that can cause a rash or hives to break out when a person comes into contact with water.
  • Human touch: Another form of urticaria is dermographism, also known as skin writing because the reaction shows as lines if you draw your finger across their skin.
  • Sunlight: Solar urticaria is a reaction to sunlight on the skin causing hives which can also be accompanied by nausea, vomiting and light-headedness if there is too much exposure to the sun.
  • Exercise: If someone tells you they’re allergic to exercise you may be wrong to think it’s a joke. Anaphylaxis and urticaria can be exercise-induced and can cause severe anaphylactic reactions like constricting of airways and loss of consciousness.

If you or especially your child has any strange reactions to something eaten or touched and experiences server symptoms, get medical help immediately. Even if your symptoms are mild, it will still help to get medical advice to help you determine the source and severity of the allergy and help alleviate symptoms with treatment and medication.