Allergy Awareness Week focuses on raising the awareness of allergies and offering support to those who suffer with them.
You may have heard the phase “one man’s pleasure is another man’s poison” - which neatly encapsulates the concept of allergies. Substances which we often come in to contact with, for some can pose daily challenges or even create life-threatening situations.
Allergies are triggered by the response of the immune system to a substance in the environment which, ordinarily, would not pose any issue. They’re also very common, as Allergy UK estimate that a quarter of people in the UK will suffer with an allergy at some point in their life – in a recent survey, 60% of respondents reported suffering with an allergy whilst 73% said they knew an allergy sufferer.
The most common types of allergic reaction are:
- Pollens from trees and grasses;
- Proteins secreted by house dust mites;
- Foods such as nuts, milk and eggs;
- Pets, in particular furry/hairy animals;
- Insect bites or stings;
The most obvious effects caused by allergies are physical, such as sneezing or skin rashes, but they can also pose detriment to our mental health.
Over half (52%) of allergy sufferers reported that they felt the need to minimise their allergies out of fear of judgement by family, friends or employers, and an even greater number (53%) avoided social interactions, which led to feelings of fear and isolation. Relationships and social connections have an endless number of positive impacts on our mental and physical health, health behaviours (behaviours we engage in that directly impact on health) and mortality risk. Conversely, poor quality or lack of social connection has the opposite effect, which could disproportionately affect allergy sufferers for these reasons.
Busting some allergy myths:
You may have heard the statement ‘if you don’t eat X whilst pregnant, you lower your risk of your child being allergic’. However, there is minimal evidence to support this claim, and in fact it is advised that pregnant women eat a balanced, healthy diet for general health, but also to help minimise allergy development in children.
Another common allergy myth is that people who suffer from pollen allergies will be absolutely fine inside - unfortunately, this is not always the case. Pollen can find its way in through open windows and doors, and can also stick to hair and clothes, so we can transport them in anywhere if we’re not careful.
Follow these general tips when looking to minimise the risk of exacerbating allergies:
Prepare for every scenario
As with many situations, preparation is key and can heavily influence the outcome of a particular scenario. In the case of allergies, there are several things we can do to minimise the impact allergies play on our lives. This could be something as simple as taking an antihistamine tablet an hour or so before visiting a pet-inhabited house (of a family member or friend, perhaps) so the antihistamine has time to take effect and minimise the impact of an allergy.
- We should also be careful to always read food labels when buying prepacked food or asking direct questions in a restaurant if unsure about a menu choice. When cooking at home, you can avoid cross contamination by having separate sets of utensils for different foods, or by washing with hot, soapy water between uses.
- Allergens can find their way into our homes very easily by latching onto our clothing or hair, meaning that the hard work of an allergy sufferer to keep the house clean can be undone very quickly. Consider changing your clothes and having a wash when returning to the house, as this will help stop the transfer of allergens into the home. Also, ensure you shower before bed; the last thing any hay fever sufferer wants is to get their pillow inadvertently covered in pollen!
Educate ourselves to better understand allergies
It is hard for us to help allergy sufferers when we do not fully understand their plight, which is why awareness events like Allergy Awareness Week are so important. Allergies can be stressful for a variety of reasons, so by improving our overall knowledge of allergens and how they can affect sufferers, we could potentially help alleviate their feelings of stress and become more accommodating.
Signpost allergy resources
For people who are caring for allergy sufferers, it can be a daunting task to find the right information and support. If we increase the awareness of other support networks, it can help signpost those in need to the best resources.
Allergy support networks include:
- Allergy UK: helpline 01322 619898
- Anaphylaxis UK: helpline 01252 524029
- Asthma UK: helpline 0300 2225800