An allergy is a medical condition that most carers will have come across at some time. Whether it is something they experience themselves or something their patients have, allergies are now unfortunately a common occurrence.
Today, it seems that more and more people talk about their allergies, or seem to start experiencing them without a history of them. As it turns out, this isn’t a baseless anecdotal observation. Researchers have shown that allergy rates are rising, and immunological research has suggested several causes for this. This article identifies common symptoms and discusses ways of managing the impact on sufferers.
Symptoms of allergic reactions:
The NHS website details the following as symptoms of allergic reactions:
Dry, red, or cracked skin
Swollen lips, tongue, or face
Vomiting or diarrhoea
Shortness of breath, wheezing, and a tight chest
Runny nose and sneezing
It is also important to note that the symptoms depend on the allergen you are affected by, or even the method of exposure. For example, sickness tends to manifest when you are allergic to something you eat, whereas a runny nose will occur if you are allergic to pollen.
In rare cases, allergic reactions can cause the victim to go into anaphylactic shock. Its symptoms include those mentioned above, as well as more serious ones, such as losing consciousness; blue skin/lips; throat swelling; confusion; lightheadedness; and difficulty breathing.
An anaphylactic shock is life-threatening, so if someone has gone into one you must immediately dial 999. You can also help by injecting them with adrenaline if they carry an autoinjector with them (and again within 15 minutes, if their symptoms don’t improve), but it is also important to lie the victim down and remove any possible triggers from the area immediately.
Knowing that allergic reactions can prove to be fatal or reduce someone’s quality of life, it’s easy to see why it is concerning that allergies are increasing. But what do experts believe are the causes of this increase?
The Hygiene Hypothesis:
The most commonly accepted theory is known as the hygiene hypothesis. The basis of this theory is the idea that modern living conditions are ‘too clean’ for today’s kids. In the same way that vaccinations expose children to the organisms that cause diseases in order to train the body to fight the disease, exposure to germs in the world is believed to help train children’s bodies to distinguish between harmful and safe irritants.
Evidence for this proposal is drawn from the fact that children who live on farms have a much lower chance of developing allergic reactions. Farm animals increase the likelihood of exposure to germs and, importantly, endotoxins, which are the compound in germs that train the immune response to allergens.
As such, the constant hand washing and high-maintenance hygiene standards, that are promoted in developed areas, appear to be somewhat detrimental to long-term health.
Vitamin D deficiencies
Vitamin D is vitally important to the development of the lungs and immune system. A deficiency of vitamin D can result, amongst other symptoms, in allergic diseases like asthma. Humans require exposure to the sun in order to produce vitamin D, but modern generations spend less time outside than ever before, preferring to play or work indoors. As such they are more likely than previous generations to develop such allergic conditions.
Antibiotics vs Allergies
There is some limited research suggesting that early age usage of antibiotics impacts the development of asthma and allergy-related illnesses, and studies have demonstrated that there is a parallel between the rates of antibiotic usage and allergy rates.
How can you make an environment more allergy-friendly?
There are many simple things you can do in order to make your home a safer place for allergy sufferers.
Pets: Pets without feathers or fur are the safest for people with allergies, but if your pets do have either of these features then washing them weekly and not allowing them onto beds or furniture can reduce risks.
Avoiding smoking: If you smoke, you should try to not smoke around children, as the chemicals in cigarette smoke can trigger or cause allergic reactions to develop. Only smoking in a particular ‘smoking jacket’, which you take off before coming home, can be a good way to help reduce risks to kids.
Pest control: Ensuring food or crumbs aren’t left lying around means you are less likely to attract mice or allergen-carrying insects.
Dusting: Dusting often with a wet cloth ensures that allergens embedded in the dust are cleaned away. The same effect is achieved by washing linen and bedspreads weekly, whilst ‘dust-mite impermeable’ covers can be a worthwhile investment.
Diet: Lots of food products are capable of causing allergic reactions in certain people. Milk products, eggs, peanuts, peas, beans, nuts, chocolate, shellfish, gluten, and food additives, such as those in dried apricots or red wines, are all sources of possible allergens. If you believe you may be allergic to one, speak to your doctor for tests and advice, and refrain from eating that food. Discover more in our blog 'Food Allergies and Allergic Reactions'.
For staff that prepare food, we offer an Allergen Awareness course that covers different food allergies and how to avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen.