Living with Allergies

The spring and summer months are a time of the year most of us love. We look forward to longer days, lighter evenings and the chance to spend time eating outdoors enjoying blue skies and sunshine safely.

For those living with allergies however, it can also be a time of the year fraught with problems. As pollen counts rise, insects become more active, air quality changes and our pets start to shed their fur.

The main culprits

Pollen is by far the biggest cause of allergies in spring and summer. Causing hayfever (or allergic rhinitis) for more than 10 million people around the UK. Pollen is a fine powder released from plants and trees. When it comes into contact with eyes, noses and throats it triggers the allergic reaction.

Air pollution can exacerbate existing allergies and often cause allergic reactions in its own right. Modern draft-free homes make it easy for dust, animal hair and other household contaminants to build up to levels that might cause allergic rhinitis, conjunctivitis or even allergic asthma.

Outdoors, in towns and cities especially, pollutants from traffic, industry and burnt fossil fuels can also cause allergic reactions. Particularly on hot, still days.

Insect bites and stings

While the risk from native UK insects and other animal is very low, being bitten can be painful and in extreme cases, can cause anaphylactic shock, a serious allergic reaction.

Anaphylaxis is a serious and very rapid reaction to an insect bite or sting, particularly from wasps and bees. It is very important to call 999 for an ambulance immediately if you suspect you or someone else is showing signs of anaphylactic shock after an insect sting.

Food allergies are not broadly thought of as a seasonal problem, however as more of us eat outdoors during the summer months, awareness of the ingredients in our meals is important for those with food allergies.

Common food types that cause an allergic reaction are fish, shellfish, nuts, dairy produce and some fruits and vegetables. Allergy advice should always be included on menus. If you are unsure always ask or avoid certain dishes to be safe.

Allergy Symptoms

Common hayfever symptoms include a runny or blocked nose and red, itchy eyes. Sufferers might also experience loss of smell and an itchy throat. Headaches, earaches and a feeling of tiredness also not unusual.

Air pollution can cause allergic rhinitis, with symptoms very similar to those caused by hayfever; however, contaminants in the air can cause other issues too. Respiratory symptoms such as shortness of breath and asthma are not uncommon.

Insect stings and bites aren’t always felt straight away although bee and wasp stings cause a sudden, sharp pain. Mild symptoms can include redness, itchiness and hives around the affected area on the skin. Stings from bees and wasps can also cause anaphylaxis. Generally though, the allergic reaction is minor, with itchiness and red swelling of the surrounding skin.

If you have eaten food that you might be allergic to, symptoms might include a tingling feeling or itchiness in and around the mouth, swelling around the mouth, throat (with problems swallowing or breathing), the face or other areas of the body. You might also experience dizziness, nausea or diarrhoea and abdominal pain.

Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction; it can be caused by both food and insect bites and stings. Symptoms include light-headedness and feeling faint, breathing problems and increased heart rate, confusion and anxiety, clammy skin and loss of consciousness.

If you suspect that you or someone close is suffering from anaphylactic shock, call 999 immediately.

Living with Allergies

Living with allergies can be a problem during the spring and summer months but there are things you can do to minimise their impact. Paying attention to daily pollen and air quality forecasts is a good idea. This enables you to limit your time outdoors on the days when the forecast is high.

Changing clothes can also be beneficial if you have been outdoors and experienced symptoms of hayfever. Your pharmacist will be able to offer help and advice about the antihistamines available to help with the symptoms of hayfever.

If you are aware of an existing allergy and have an adrenaline auto-injector (or Epipen) then make sure you have it with you at all times. You never know when you might need it.

If you are venturing outdoors to enjoy the warmer weather safely, it may be a good idea to invest in an insect repellent. Your pharmacy will be able to advise on which might suit your needs the best. Consider covering up legs and arms too, as an extra level of protection against insect bites.

For help and advice about allergies and how to minimise their impact, talk to your GP surgery or local pharmacist.