Next week from 25th April – 1st May is Allergy Awareness Week – an important awareness week to highlight the struggles faced by allergy sufferers. The week aims to provide advice on coping with allergies and dealing with allergic reactions. With allergies coming in many forms, being aware of their symptoms and effects is important for both individuals and their families in order to prevent what could be avoidable reactions. Spreading awareness and raising money are just some of the ways in which you can get involved, as well as educating yourself on allergies.
What is Allergy Awareness Week?
Each year, Allergy UK hosts Allergy Awareness Week to raise awareness of the allergies which affect an estimated 21 million people in the UK. With allergies coming in all sorts of variations including hay fever, dust mites, food allergies, chemicals and more – the campaign aims to help people learn more about living and coping with their own allergies. It also seeks to make others more aware, by encouraging them to do what they can to help allergy sufferers. There are information campaigns as well as calls for fundraising, to help the charity continue to carry out their important work across the UK.
Learning more about allergies
An allergy is described as when the body’s immune system reacts to something which isn’t usually considered harmful, both natural and artificial. Reactions can vary from mild irritation such as a skin rash to more serious and possible fatal side effects such as the tightening of the airways. An allergy is considered different to an intolerance or sensitivity, as these do not have fatal consequences. Some of the most common types of allergy include:
- Food (peanuts, shellfish, dairy, fruit)
- Dust mites
- Pollen (leading to hay fever)
- Animal fur or feathers
- Insect stings and bites
- Chemicals found in household products or cosmetics
- Medication – especially penicillin and some kinds of painkiller or anti-inflammatory.
Some people develop allergies as children, which can ease as they get older, whilst adults may also develop allergies to substances they weren’t previously allergic too. With some allergies, such as certain foods, it can be difficult to establish what is causing the allergy, requiring testing and eliminating different foods to find the underlying cause.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction and treating them
The majority of allergic reactions are mild, and do not have cause for concern. They also typically begin within minutes of being exposed to the allergen and include:
- Watering or streaming of the eyes, redness and itching
- A rash
- A runny nose
- Coughing and wheezing
- Exacerbation of existing conditions such as asthma or eczema
- Swelling or inflammation around stings or chemical contact
Most allergy symptoms will subside on their own, but antihistamine products may also help. In more severe cases resulting in anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock, emergency medical treatment needs to be sought.
If you suspect that you are allergic to something, or that your child is allergic, you should seek advice from your GP who will be able to confirm the allergy and offer advice on managing it. It’s important to be aware of your allergies and to ensure they are made known in your personal information at school or work, as this could help people around you provide treatment in a medical situation.
The best way to manage an allergy is to avoid the allergen causing the reaction. This means avoiding using certain products and eating certain foods. Checking the ingredients of the products you buy will help you work out what is safe for you to use, and means you can mostly carry on as normal. Product and food manufacturers make it easier to identify allergens in products through thorough labelling, whilst the Food Standards Agency offers useful information about labelling.
Restaurants are also much better at highlighting the ingredients their foods contain, and staff should make every effort to provide you with this information should you ask for it.
Medical wristbands or bracelets are also a good way to alert others to your allergies, and are particularly useful for children or vulnerable adults who may not be able to communicate their allergies themselves.
Further information about allergies
For Allergy Awareness Week, you can do your bit by finding out more about allergies and spreading awareness either through sharing information on social media, fundraising in schools or your workplace or putting up posters highlighting the campaign. The NHS website has a host of information about allergies and how to manage them, including tips for dealing with children’s allergies.
Keep an eye out on our social media pages for more information about Allergy Awareness Week and help us spread the message to improve the knowledge and treatment of allergies.