June 18-24 is World Allergy Week, a time that aims to raise awareness and education on allergies that affect so many of us.
This year’s focus is on managing allergic diseases amidst environmental changes.
Basically, this means a comprehensive and proactive approach in environments such as air pollution, climate change, and increasing allergen exposure.
People with allergies must adapt their management strategies, and we want to encourage that.
So how do you know if you have an allergy to something? Allergy testing.
Allergy testing and effective communication with healthcare professionals are powerful weapons, as is education.
In this article, we explore:
- Allergy explained
- Common allergies in Australia
- How to know if you might have an underlying allergy
- Allergy testing
- Allergy treatments
- Tips to avoid allergy flare ups
An allergy is an immune system response to a substance that is typically harmless to most people.
When an allergic individual comes into contact with an allergen, such as pollen, dust mites, pet fur, or certain foods, their immune system overreacts and produces an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE).
The IgE antibodies trigger the release of chemicals, such as histamine, into the bloodstream, leading to various allergic symptoms.
These symptoms can range from mild, such as sneezing, itching, or hives, to more severe reactions like difficulty breathing, swelling, or anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition that can trigger within minutes with symptoms including breathing and/or heart complications.
Allergies can significantly impact a person’s quality of life, requiring management.
Common allergies in Australia
Australia is known for its diverse range of flora and fauna, something us Aussies are very proud of, but this richness also contributes to a wide range of common allergies.
Pollen allergies are prevalent across the country, with hay fever symptoms often occurring during spring and summer.
Dust mite allergies are another common concern, as these microscopic creatures thrive in warm and humid environments found in many Australian homes.
These allergies include asthma, one of the most common allergy-centred conditions in Australia. Asthma can be diagnosed, managed and treated with the help of professional care.
Additionally, insect bites and stings can trigger severe allergic reactions in some people. The venom from bees, wasps, and ants can cause anaphylaxis.
Food allergies are also on the rise, with peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, and dairy being among the most frequent culprits.
How to know if you might have an underlying allergy
There are several signs and symptoms to watch out for when detecting allergies, although, allergies can manifest in various ways, affecting different individuals differently.
Common indicators include
- Frequent sneezing
- Itchy or watery eyes
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Persistent coughing
Skin-related symptoms like hives, itching, or eczema can also be a clue.
Keep an eye on any gastrointestinal issues such as stomach pain, bloating, diarrhoea, or vomiting that occur after consuming certain foods.
If you experience shortness of breath, wheezing, or chest tightness, it could also be a sign of an allergic reaction, especially if it occurs after exposure to allergens like pollen, dust, or pet dander.
Keep track of when these symptoms occur, and if they consistently appear in specific environments or after eating certain foods, this information can be particularly useful when allergy testing.
It’s best to see a doctor for a proper evaluation and diagnosis, this is known as allergy testing.
Allergy testing is an important method used to identify specific allergens that trigger an someone’s allergic reaction.
It helps determine the substances to which a person may be allergic, enabling healthcare professionals to develop an appropriate treatment plan.
There are two primary methods of allergy testing: skin tests and blood tests.
Skin tests involve introducing small amounts of potential allergens into the skin through pricking or scratching.
A localised allergic reaction, such as redness or swelling, indicates sensitivity to that allergen.
Blood tests, on the other hand, measure the levels of allergen-specific antibodies, particularly immunoglobulin E (IgE), in the blood. This helps identify allergens that provoke an immune response.
Common types of allergy tests include skin prick tests, intradermal tests, and specific IgE blood tests.
Allergy testing is performed by trained health professionals and can provide valuable information to guide allergy management, including avoidance, medication options, and immunotherapy.
It is essential to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the most suitable allergy testing method and to interpret the results accurately.
Allergy treatments offer a huge range of approaches aimed at managing and alleviating the symptoms.
The primary goal of allergy treatment is to reduce the body’s immune response to specific allergens, and therefore minimise the discomfort and potential risks involved.
One method is antihistamines, which work by blocking the effects of histamine, a chemical released during allergic reactions.
Immunotherapy, such as allergy injections or tablets, can be recommended for some people with severe allergies, gradually desensitising the immune system to allergens over time.
Other approaches include avoiding known allergens, using nasal sprays, and over-the-counter medication.
Ultimately, the choice of allergy treatment depends on the specific allergy, its severity, and your response to options.
Again, talking with a healthcare professional is essential to determine the most suitable and effective treatment plan.
Tips to avoid allergy flare ups
Identify and Avoid Triggers
Determine the specific allergens that trigger your symptoms and make an effort to avoid them. Common triggers include pollen, dust mites, pet dander, mould, and certain foods.
Keep Your Home Clean
Regularly clean and vacuum your carpets, rugs, and furniture and clean curtains to reduce dust and pet dander accumulation.
Ensure good airflow in your home by opening windows on low-pollen days and using exhaust fans in kitchens and bathrooms to prevent the buildup of mould and humidity.
Monitor Pollen Counts
Keep on top of daily pollen counts and try to limit outdoor activities during high pollen periods. Keep windows closed and use air conditioning instead when pollen counts are high.
Wash your hands frequently, especially after being outdoors, to remove allergens from your skin. Shower and wash your hair before bedtime to prevent allergens from transferring to your bedding.
On the tropic of bedding, use allergen-proof covers and sheets to create a barrier against dust mites and other allergens. Wash bedding regularly in hot water to kill dust mites.
Avoid Smoke and Strong Odours
Smoke, strong perfumes, and other irritants can worsen allergy symptoms. Stay away from cigarette smoke (no matter your allergies), burning incense, and harsh chemical fumes.
Talk to a professional
If your allergies are severe or persistent, speak to a professional. They can provide guidance on specific triggers and develop a personalised treatment plan.
Living with allergies doesn’t mean you have to live a limited or cautious life. In fact, 1 in 5 Australians has an allergy, so you’re certainly not alone.
Some people are even unaware they have allergies, writing symptoms off as being “sniffly, under the weather or tired”.
Others choose to use over-the-counter medications which can burn a hole in one’s wallet.
Often, the best option is to make an appointment and speak to a professional. This means knowing exactly what triggers your specific reactions and finding the most effective treatments.