What is an Allergy?
An allergy is a reaction by the body to a particular substance that might be otherwise harmless. Allergies are extremely common, and are though to affect more than 1 in 4 people in the UK at some point in their lives. Allergies are particularly common in children; some go away as they grow up, while other persist through life. Adults may develop allergies to substances they weren’t previously affected by.
Allergies can be a nuisance affecting everyday activity, but most are mild in nature and can be kept under control, though severe reaction may occur occasionally.
Skin allergiesIrritated skin can be caused by a variety of factors, such as immune system disorders, certain medications or infections. One could have an allergic reaction to something in the air that settles on your skin, such as plant pollen, chemical sprays, or cigarette smoke, resulting in bumps, itching and redness.
Common skin allergies include;
Atopic dermatitis This is the most common form of eczema, affecting between 10-20% of children, and 1-3% of adults. It presents as dry, red, irritated and itchy skin, which may have small, fluid-filled bumps that ooze a clear or yellowish liquid.
Contact dermatitis This occurs when your skin comes in direct contact with an allergen. You may develop red, bumpy, scaly, itchy or swollen skin.
Hives Hives are inflammation of the skin triggered when the immune system releases histamine causing small blood vessels to leak, which leads to swelling in the skin.
Angioedema Angioedema is swelling in deep layers of the skin, often occurring in soft tissues such as the eyelids, mouth, or genitals.
Allergic reactions usually happen quickly within a few minutes of being exposed to an allergen, instantly showing symptoms, or might take a few hours in some cases.
Symptoms vary depending on what you’re allergic to and how you come into contact with it, they commonly include;
- Red, itchy rash (hives)
- Swollen lips, tongue, or face
- Worsenign of asthma or eczema symptoms.
Most reactions are mild, but occasionally a severe reaction called anaphylaxis can occur, sending you into an anaphylactic shock, causing swelling of the throat and mouth, extreme difficulty in breathing, confusion, blue skin or lips or losing consciousness.
Allergies come about when the body’s immune system reacts to a particular substance as though it is harmful. It is not entirely clear why this occurs, however most people with allergies have a family history of it or suffer from closely related conditions such as asthma or eczema.
It usually takes many days to become sensitive towards any substance after your first contact with it, but once you have developed an allergy, a reaction can occur within a few minutes.
Common causes for skin allergies;
- Nickel in jewelry
- Makeup, lotions, soaps and shampoos
- Medications such as antibiotics
- Cleaning products
- Plants, such as poison ivy
- Sun sensitivity
To diagnose a skin allergy, your GP will ask about your symptoms, when they happen, how often and if anything seems to trigger them. If you experience severe allergies or it is not clear what you are allergic to, you may be recommended for testing.
Skin prick testingThis is the most common allergy test. A drop of liquid is put on your forearm, containing a substance you might be allergic to. The skin under the drop is gently pricked with the needle, if you are allergic, an itchy red bump will appear in 15 minutes. The process is entirely painless and safe.
Blood testsBlood tests are commonly used instead of or alongside skin prick testing. Blood is analysed for specific antibodies produced by your immune system in response to an allergen.
Patch test This is used to determine contact dermatitis. A small amount of a suspect allergen is added to special metal discs, which are taped to your skin for 48 hours and monitored for a reaction
The most effective way of managing allergies is by avoiding the allergen whenever possible, however it depends on what you are allergic to.
We offer various treatment medications to help control symptoms;
AntihistaminesThese are prescribed as the main medicines for allergies. It can be taken when you notice the symptoms of a reaction, or before being exposed to an allergen to stop a reaction from occurring. It is available as tablets, capsules, creams, liquids, eye drops and nasal sprays, depending on which part of your body is affected.
Decongestants These are tablets, capsules, nasal sprays or liquids that can be used as a short-term treatment for a blocked nose. However they can worsen symptoms with prolonged usage.
Lotions and creamsRed and itchy skin caused by an allergic reaction can be treated with creams and lotions, such as emollients (to keep skin moist and protect it), calamine (to reduce itchiness) and steroids (to reduce inflammation).
Steroid medicationThese help to reduce inflammation. It is available as sprays, drops, creams, inhalers and tablets that can help reduce redness and swelling.