Allergies and asthma
Oh how much we love June, if only it weren’t for the pollen. Many will agree with me on this one, it is great seeing colourful flowers and rays of sunshine until you take a sniff and trigger an asthma attack! Allergies and asthma often co-exist which is why I have decided them to put them under one umbrella for this blog. It will be wise to discover what allergy and allergic asthma is before we go on.
So what is an allergy?
The immune system is like a complex algorithm, each chemical and cell have a job and one step leads to another in order to protect the beautiful and fragile human body. This complex system is often triggered by harmful foreign bodies such as bacteria and viruses, leading to many symptoms that eventually overcome the foreign body and prevent the body from falling sick. In some cases, however, harmless substances such as pollen from grass, weeds or trees, mold spores and animals can also trigger the immune response. These are named allergens.
When an allergen meets the body, the immune system releases IgE antibodies (to fight the foreign bodies). Consequently, chemicals such as histamine are released. Histamine generally causes symptoms such as; itchy eyes, sneezing, runny nose and inflammation – all in an attempt to remove the allergen.
Furthermore, if you have allergic asthma, the immune system overreacts to the allergen causing the muscles around the airways and lungs to tighten. Again, as a result of histamine release, the lungs are filled with mucus and become inflamed making it extremely hard to breathe. Allergic asthma symptoms are the same as non-allergic asthma symptoms, however, the only difference is that allergic asthma is triggered by an allergen.
Identifying your allergens
If you know you have an allergy but you are unsure about what you have an allergy against, it is possible to do a skin prick test. Skin prick tests are generally carried out privately and consist of tiny allergens pricked into your skin to check against any allergic skin reactions. This can be a very good and reliable indicator to find out your body’s allergens.
You can also get a blood test known as specific IgE or sIgE test that will tell you whether you have an allergy or not.
The most effective way of treating allergies is by taking anti-histamines to reverse the effects of histamine release in the body. If you are aware that you suffer from seasonal allergies, it is best advised to start taking anti-histamines approximately a week before your allergies start to prevent any symptoms from occurring.
It is also advised that asthma sufferers be compliant with their inhalers and have their asthma and inhaler technique reviewed regularly. This can be provided by the NHS or can be done privately at certain pharmacies.
Occasionally, if allergic symptoms are very severe, steroids may be prescribed to reduce the inflammation caused as a result of the immune response.
There are also local medicines that can help alleviate symptoms such as nasal sprays, eye drops and creams. It is best to speak to a pharmacist before you buy these products in order to establish the best possible treatment for your symptoms.
Prevention is key for all conditions, however, it can be a little tricky with allergies. If you know you have an allergy to a specific food or an animal you can avoid that, however, if you are allergic to pollen it can be harder to avoid as it is in the air everywhere around us.
Top tips include wearing sunglasses, staying indoors when pollen counts are high, taking a shower after being outdoors and applying Vaseline to nasal openings to trap pollen.
If you require any further information or help and advice, please contact our pharmacists at 02036301244.
Please note that this blog does not cover anaphylaxis allergic reactions.