Allergies are very common, affecting about 1 in 3 New Zealanders at some time in their lives.
An allergy occurs when a person’s immune system over-reacts to substances called allergens in the environment.
Common allergens include house dust mites, grasses, pollen, pets, foods, some medications, insect stings, latex and moulds.
Symptoms vary according to the part of the body affected, but can include sneezing, watery eyes, itch, rash, and raised weals on the skin. Extreme allergic reaction can be life-threatening (anaphylaxis) and needs immediate treatment.
Once you develop a sensitivity to an allergen, an allergic response is set off every time you are exposed to the allergens that affect you. Allergies are often a part of the cause of conditions such as hay fever, eczema and asthma.
It's important to talk to your doctor if you think you or your child may have an allergy to something. They might suggest tests such as a skin prick test or a blood test (known as a RAST – a radioallergosorbent test).
They can also tell you what to do in case of an extreme allergic reaction and help you set up an action plan.
The most important part of managing allergies is to avoid the allergens if possible. Allergy symptoms also have specific treatments, including medication and self-help practices.
The most common medications used for allergies are antihistamines. Other allergy medications include decongestant nasal sprays and emollient or corticosteroid creams to help soothe inflamed skin.
Your Life Pharmacist is a good source of information, allergy prevention tips and advice on using or taking any allergy medication properly. Feel free to have a chat next time you’re at your local Life Pharmacy.