According to Allergy UK, around one person in four in the UK suffers from an allergy at some point in their lifetime. The number of people affected is increasing every year, and up to half of those affected are children.
1. What are the most common allergies?
The most common allergies are to pollen, house dust mites, mould, pets such as cats and dogs, wasps and bees, industrial and household chemicals, and foods such as milk, nuts (mainly peanuts) and eggs.
You can also be allergic to fruit, medicines such as penicillin, metals such as nickel in jewellery, and rubber.
2. What are the main allergy symptoms?
The most common symptoms are sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, wheezing, coughing and itchy skin rashes (dermatitis).
The type of symptoms you experience depends on what you're allergic to and how you come into contact with it. For example, you may have difficulty breathing if you inhale pollen, or dermatitis if you apply a lotion containing a chemical you're allergic to, or nausea and vomiting if you eat a food you're allergic to.
3. What are allergic illnesses?
Some allergic symptoms are conditions in themselves.
Hay fever is a runny nose, sneezing, blocked nose and itchy eyes caused by contact with pollen.
Eczema is itchy inflammation of the skin that is often linked to allergy. An eczema flare can be triggered by foods, house dust mites, pollen or pet hair.
Asthma is a type of breathing problem that can be triggered by allergens such as pets, house dust mite droppings in dust, pollens and moulds.
Allergic rhinitis is similar to hay fever but occurs all year round.
Urticaria is a red itchy bumpy rash that can occur as part of an allergic reaction, for example to foods, drugs and insect stings.
Allergic eye disease is also known as allergic conjunctivitis, and is where the eyes become itchy and red after contact with an allergen such as pollen or pet hair.
4. Can allergy be inherited?
Some people are more likely to develop an allergy because it runs in their family. If this is the case, you're said to be atopic or to have atopy. Boys are more likely to develop an inherited allergy than girls, as are babies who have a low birth weight.
5. Is an allergic reaction dangerous?
Allergic reactions can be mild, moderate or severe. In some cases they can be life threatening. This is known as anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency and needs prompt treatment.