What is an allergy?

An allergic reaction occurs when your body misinterprets a harmless substance as being harmful, and reacts in an effort to protect you. While the immune system’s job is to defend against detrimental bacteria and viruses, it sometimes develops a sensitivity to innocuous substances such as pollen, grass or cat hair and sees them as a threat. These substances are referred to as allergens, or antigens, and cause the immune system to release a chemical called histamine, resulting in symptoms such as sneezing, nasal congestion and itchy eyes. To counteract these symptoms, sufferers might take medications called antihistamines.

Types of Allergies

Additional Information

Possible causes and risk factors

Allergies are not only common, their incidence is increasing. Allergies now affect as many as 30% of adults and 40% of children, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Both genetic predisposition and environmental exposure play a contributing role in the development of allergies. Interestingly, while you will not inherit a specific allergy from a parent, if both your parents experience allergies, your chances of having allergies increases.

Allergies can also worsen other conditions such as sinus problems and asthma.

Possible symptoms of allergies

Allergic reactions can range from mild to life-threatening. Some of the most common symptoms are:

  • Itchy, stinging or watering eyes
  • Runny or blocked nose
  • Conjunctivitis (red, swollen eyes)
  • Itchiness of the nose, skin, mouth, throat, etc
  • Coughing and/or wheezing
  • Hives and rashes
  • Swollen lips, tongue, eyes or face
  • Shortness of breath
  • Stomach pain or cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea

Reactions from contact

The symptoms you experience will often correlate with which body part was exposed to the antigen. For example:

  • If your eyes are exposed to an allergen they can become red, itchy, watery and/or swollen.
  • If you inhale an allergen, the result could be a blocked nose, coughing, wheezing or itching of the nose or throat.
  • Allergens you have ingested could cause cramping, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, or life-threatening anaphylaxis.
  • Skin contact with an allergen may cause blisters, rashes, itching or hives.

Treatment

While some allergies can be dealt with simply by identifying and then avoiding the allergen, in other cases, prescribed medication or immunotherapy might be needed. Through a thorough examination of your medical history and by using advanced allergy tests and diagnostic tools, our specialists will determine the source of your allergies and take a patient-centred approach in helping you to deal with them. Since people’s lifestyles and even their reactions to medication differ, the approach to dealing with allergy issues needs to be highly personalised.

Armed with your diagnosis, our specialists will work with you to determine the best way to minimise future exposure to allergens, and on how best to treat the symptoms if they appear. Depending on the nature and severity of your symptoms, treatment could involve an over-the-counter or prescription medication, or a course immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is a series of allergy shots that expose a patient to the allergen, gradually increasing the amount so as to build up a tolerance to it. While immunotherapy can be ideal in cases where allergens cannot be avoided or where the symptoms are difficult to control, they do require a commitment from the patient and they do not work for everybody.

It is vital that severe allergies that could result in life-threatening anaphylactic reactions are identified and treated immediately with epinephrine and that the utmost caution is taken.

Our specialists are able to deal with anything from simple allergic reactions to helping you find relief for nasal and sinus problems, asthma, ENT (eyes, nose and throat) symptoms, skin conditions, and respiratory allergies.

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