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What is an Allergy?

BY READERS DIGEST

1st Jan 2015 Health Conditions

What is an Allergy?
Allergic symptoms are signs that the immune system is overreacting to normally harmless substances such as pollen (which causes hay fever), dust, pet dander (tiny flakes of dried saliva, skin and hair from pets) or mould.

The Immune System and Allergies

Usually, the immune system ignores these ‘triggers’ and focuses on protecting you from real threats, such as viruses or bacteria. But when someone has an allergy, the immune system cannot distinguish some harmless substances from dangerous ones. Triggers can be ingested (such as wheat and peanuts), absorbed through the skin (such as plants or base metals), inhaled (such as mould or pollen) or received by injection (such as a penicillin jab). Sensitivity to allergens tends to be inherited.

Severe allergies

If a person's tongue, face, hands or neck swell rapidly, they have difficulty in breathing–with or without wheezing–and rapidly develop urticaria or hives (raised red or white weals), then dial 999. These are signs of anaphylactic shock, a potentially fatal allergic reaction to, for example, a bee sting, peanuts or shellfish. Generally, allergy symptoms tend to be merely miserable and uncomfortable. However, if over-the-counter remedies don't work, or if you can't work out what it is that you're allergic to, then it is advisable to consult a doctor.

Top Ten Allergies in the UK:

  • Pollen
  • Animals
  • Dust Mites
  • Insect Stings
  • Moulds
  • Food 
  • Latex
  • Medicine
  • Fragrances
  • Cockroaches

Some Very Odd Allergies:

Water: Strange but true, this pure substance is known to cause allergies in the unfortunate few.
Sex: What a mood killer! Apparently the male sperm is the culprit.
Exercise: Seriously, it's not an excuse! The symptoms are quite serious too, ranging from hives and gastrointestinal problems to life-threatening anaphylaxis.
Technology: Sure enough people suffer from electrosensitivity. These people tend to avoid microwaves and Wi-Fi. Some have been known to move to areas of the world free of electro-magnetic fields.
Food and Drink (with the exception of water): Unbelievably there is one poor soul who struggles to digest anything other than ice, water and one particular brand of lemonade. Poor fellow.
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