Allergies: Symptoms, Treatment and Causes

What Are Allergies?

An allergy is the body’s reaction to a particular food or substance.

Allergies affect more than 1 in 4 people at some point in their lives.

They are common in children and some allergies go away as the child grows older, though many allergies are lifelong.

Adults sometimes develop allergies to foods or substances that they were not previously allergic to.

Having an allergy can affect your everyday activities but the majority of allergic reactions are mild and can be controlled.

Severe allergic reactions can occasionally occur but these are not very common.

The most common allergens are:

Grass and tree pollen – an allergy to these is known as hay fever (allergic rhinitis)

Animal dander, tiny flakes of skin or hair

Dust mites

Food – particularly nuts, fruit, shellfish, eggs and cows’ milk

Medicines – including ibuprofen, aspirin and certain antibiotics

Insect bites and stings

Latex – used to make some gloves and condoms

Household chemicals – including those in detergents and hair dyes

Mould – these can release small particles into the air that you can breathe in

Most of these allergens are generally harmless to people who are not allergic to them.

Allergy symptoms

Allergic reactions usually happen within a few minutes of exposure to an allergen and the following symptoms can occur:


Red, itchy, watery eyes

A runny or blocked nose

Wheezing and coughing

A red, itchy rash

Worsening of asthma or eczema symptoms

Most allergic reactions are mild but occasionally a severe reaction called anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock can occur which is a medical emergency and needs urgent treatment.

Allergy testing

Getting help for allergies

Book an appointment with a private GP at MyHealthcare Clinic on 0207 099 5555 if you think you or your child might have had an allergic reaction to something.  Same-day GP appointments available at an award-winning MyHealthcare Clinic based in Fulham, Wandsworth, or Wimpole Street, Central London.  Appointments available Monday to Saturday.

A GP can help determine whether it’s likely you have an allergy.

If they think you might have a mild allergy, they can offer advice and treatment to help manage the condition.

If your allergy is particularly severe or it’s not clear what you’re allergic to, they may refer you to an allergy specialist for testing and advice about treatment.

How to manage an allergy

In most cases, the effective way of managing an allergy is to avoid the allergen that causes the reaction whenever possible.

For example, if you have a food allergy, you should check a food’s ingredients list for allergens before eating it.

There are also medicines available to help control symptoms of allergic reactions, including:

·      Antihistamines which can be taken when you notice the symptoms of a reaction, or before being exposed to an allergen, to stop a reaction occurring

·      Decongestants in the form of tablets, capsules, nasal sprays or liquids that can be used as a short-term treatment for a blocked nose

·      Lotions and creams, such as moisturising creams (emollients) – these can reduce skin redness and itchiness

·      Steroid medicines – sprays, drops, creams, inhalers and tablets that can help reduce redness and swelling caused by an allergic reaction

For some people with very severe allergies, a treatment called immunotherapy may be recommended.

This involves being exposed to the allergen in a controlled way over a number of years so your body gets used to it and does not react to it so severely.