Allergy has become an ubiquitous word in our vocabulary, but what is it?

Allergy is an exaggerated reaction of our immune system to a certain substance that is perceived by it as harmful, though it does not present any risk for people who are not allergic to it.  

Allergies are a common chronic condition in our modern society.  WHO has described it as a ‘modern epidemic’. In UK, 1 in 4 people are thought to suffer an allergic episode at some point in their life and according to studies the number of cases is growing yearly by 5%.

The condition affects all age groups but it tends to be more prevalent in children. Worldwide it is reported that 1 in 8 children suffers from asthma and allergic rhinitis, and 1 in 13 suffering from eczema.

 It is known that children may outgrow their allergic condition but for some they remain a lifelong condition. More interestingly is that there is a chance you can develop an allergic condition as an adult, even if you haven’t had it.

The majority of the allergic reactions are mild and can be easily mitigated but the severe reactions, though rare, are potentially life threatening. These are called anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock and need urgent medical intervention.

There are numerous studies working researching the cause of the allergy reactions and the complex nature of the immune system response, genetics and the continuous changes in our surrounding environment.  There is no single answer to what causes the abnormal immune reaction so the focus of the medical practitioners is to recognize, diagnose and eliminate all risk factors.

Hay fever, asthma and eczema allergy cases have been rising in the last 30 years but the most spectacular increase is caused by food related allergies. In a recent study, 30.1% of all the hospital admissions for anaphylaxis were admissions for food induced cases. Interestingly, the study concluded that the most common cause for fatal anaphylaxis in school children is cow’s milk.