Allergy in the UK is reaching epidemic proportions. It is estimated that 1 in 6 people have allergies and the trend is still rising, with symptoms often becoming increasingly severe.
What is an allergy?
If you have an allergy, it means that your body's immune system reacts to an allergen - a substance that causes an allergic reaction. An allergic reaction happens when your body's immune system mistakes the allergen, for example pollen, for a harmful invader and produces antibodies.
Types of allergy
Allergies range from the mildly irritating to the extremely severe and in some cases life-threatening. Allergic conditions can include:
- perennial and seasonal rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever
- asthma - difficulty in breathing
- anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock - a severe whole body reaction
- allergy to insect venom, drugs and foods such as peanuts, eggs, penicillin etc
- oral allergy syndrome, also known as pollen food allergy
- urticaria and angioedema - hives
- eczema – an often mild but sometimes severe skin condition
- extrinsic allergic alveolitis – inflammation of the lung by inhaling organic dust
- Celiac disease - intestinal reaction to gluten (found in wheat)
The most important aspect of allergy diagnosis is a careful clinical history and examination by a specialist, backed by investigations where appropriate including:
- skin prick tests - these can be carried out in our out-patient department giving same day results
- blood tests - these can be carried out in the out-patient department. Our on-site pathology laboratory will ensure a quick turn around of results (normally 48 hrs)
- challenge tests with drugs or foods - one of our consultants will be able to advise you on this
- food symptom diaries under supervision of a highly specialised dietician
- respiratory function tests - these can be carried out in the out-patient department giving same day results
- other investigations, such as bronchoscopy and endoscopy, which can be carried out in our endoscopy suite
It is important to emphasise that conducting tests in isolation without a detailed specialist allergy consultation can be misleading, because a positive test alone can mean evidence of exposure rather than the cause of the disease.
A number of new treatments are now available for the treatment of allergies.
Following a precise diagnosis after targeted environmental control (which can include elimination diets) our allergists can administer desensitisation drugs either orally or by injection as appropriate. Desensitisation drugs help to mask the effects of the allergic reaction.
In a number of situations this can result in a long remission or even a cure.