A Patient Journey for Allergies

An allergy is a condition in which a person’s immune system has an abnormal response to a substance.

These substances are known as allergens. When the body's immune system comes into contact with an allergen it produces antibodies (proteins used by the body to combat viruses and bacteria) which trigger the release of inflammatory chemicals such as histamine. These chemicals can produce a range of symptoms from mild itching to a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis (a life theatening condition which includes symptoms such as swelling of the eyes, lips, mouth, or extremities, severe itching and most importantly difficulty breathing. Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency and medical help should be sought immediately) – symptoms depend very much on the substance involved, and vary substantially from case to case.

What to expect if you think you have an allergyCommon allergic disorders include food allergies (including wheat or gluten allergy, nut allergy, egg allergy, and fish and shellfish allergies), allergies to certain ingredients in drinks (such as sulphites and caffeine), allergies to drugs (including penicillin), and hay fever, the allergic reaction to pollen. Other allergens include insect venom (found in bee and wasp stings), animal fur, products like hair dye, and components of products such as the nickel in jewellery, the latex in some disposable gloves, and other chemicals. Similar reactions are involved in intolerances to wheat, lactose, and dairy products.

If you suspect that you may be allergic to a substance, then you should see your general practitioner. Your GP will usually ask you about the nature of your symptoms, when they began, any factors that make the symptoms better or worse, whether you have pets, what medications you take, what treatments you have tried for the symptoms, and whether there is any family history of allergy. It is helpful if you keep a diary of your symptoms and possible trigger factors, and report on this to your doctor. Your doctor will usually also examine you (for skin rashes, for example) and may recommend a specialist test, such as a blood test, a skin test, or both. These are usually carried out by allergy specialists. In the case of a suspected food allergy, the doctor is likely to suggest eliminating it from your diet before reintroducing it to see if it triggers your symptoms. Your GP will most likely refer to a specialist if your symptoms are severe or if there is any history of anaphylactic reaction.

Treatments for allergy include avoidance of the allergen, medications to alleviate symptoms such as antihistamines, and desensitisation therapies such as EPD. In cases of anaphylaxis the doctor may give you emergency adrenaline to carry with you at all times to use until you receive expert emergency treatment. If you have a history of severe allergic reaction, a medical alert bracelet or necklace is a good way of informing others of your condition.

talkhealth is happy to recommend three allergy-related charities and support groups: Allergy UK, Action Against Allergy, and Allergy Academy.

You can also visit our talkallergy forum forum to talk to other allergy sufferers, and visit our allergy blog to keep up-to-date with the latest news and opinions on allergy-related issues.