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seasonal allergies man with hayfever blowing nose
By In-house Team, Circle Health Group

The five most common types of allergies

We share expert information about the most common types of allergies to help you combat your symptoms the right way this season.

Millions of us suffer from allergies at some point in our lives. Whether it be an itchy rash, a runny nose, or a tight chest, you've probably experienced symptoms of an allergy at least once in your lifetime - and you probably know how irritating these symptoms can be. There are many types of allergies, many of which go away when you're no longer exposed to the substance to which you are sensitive to (more commonly known as an allergic reaction). But hay fever, unlike other allergic reactions, can cause chronic symptoms that last for months at a time. With peak hay fever season in full swing, you might be battling persistent symptoms that aren't budging.

Everything you need to know about treatment for allergies

While many people assume allergies, such as hay fever, are simply a nuisance, they can significantly impact your everyday life, especially if you can't find the right solution to improve your symptoms. Constant red eyes and a runny nose can become increasingly uncomfortable and lead to blistering and painful swelling, and the appearance of allergies can even take a toll on your confidence, too.

We take a closer look at the five most common types of allergies, and the best ways you can combat them to stay symptom-free.

What is an allergic reaction?

Allergies are a common condition that occur when your body's immune system reacts to an alien substance, called an allergen. These allergens include certain foods, pollen, pet dander, dust mites, mould, insect stings, medications, and latex, among many more. Not everyone has a reaction to an allergen, but in some cases, your immune system mistakenly identifies these harmless substances as a threat, causing an allergic reaction. During an allergic reaction, your body releases chemicals such as histamine into your bloodstream to defend against the allergens. This immune response can cause a range of symptoms, which can be mild, moderate, or severe.

What are the most common symptoms of an allergic reaction?

This really depends on what you're allergic to. Some allergic reactions have similar symptoms to one another, although it's worth noting that everyone reacts to allergens differently. Symptoms can range from mild to severe depending on several factors. Some people might only have a sniffle or two, while others experience debilitating symptoms that could last for longer or indicate a more serious autoimmune response. The most common symptoms of allergies are:

  • A runny nose or sneezing
  • Nasal congestion (a blocked nose)
  • Pain or tenderness around your cheeks, eyes or forehead (often with red, itchy, watery eyes)
  • Coughing, wheezing or breathlessness
  • Itchy skin or a raised rash (hives)
  • Diarrhoea
  • Feeling or being sick
  • Swollen eyes, lips, mouth or throat (common with skin reactions, as well as hives and rashes)

While many people assume allergies, such as hay fever, are simply a nuisance, they can significantly impact your everyday life

1. Hay fever

One of the most common types of allergic reactions is hay fever. It happens when you are allergic to pollen. There are three main types of pollen you might be allergic to: tree pollen released during spring, grass pollen released at the beginning of summer, and weed pollen released in the late autumn. Pollen is a type of powder that plants release as part of their reproductive cycle. It contains proteins that can sometimes cause your nose, eyes, throat, and sinuses to become swollen, irritated, and inflamed. According to the NHS, hay fever affects 1 in 5 people, with symptoms often improving as you get older.

The most common symptoms of hay fever are a runny nose and watery, itchy eyes. You might also experience sneezing, coughing, and mucus that runs down the back of your throat.

Specialist advice on tackling seasonal allergies

Hay fever and fatigue

You can also experience headaches and tiredness when you suffer with hay fever. Many people find it difficult to think straight or clearly, which is often described as brain fog. This can make getting through a day's work and functioning properly more challenging.

Treatment for hay fever

There are many treatment options for hay fever. Antihistamines are perhaps the most widely used treatment. They work by blocking histamine, the substance your body makes during an allergic reaction. They can help relieve sneezing, itching, a runny nose, and watery eyes. They are available in pills, liquids, and nasal sprays - you can choose which type works for you.

Eye drops for those who experience itchy or watery eyes can provide relief.

Nasal corticosteroids are another type of medication to control hay fever, especially if used regularly. They help reduce nasal inflammation, sneezing, and runny nose. Decongestants can also relieve nasal stuffiness by narrowing your blood vessels and reducing swelling in the nasal passage. Decongestants are available as pills, liquids, and nasal sprays.

For more severe cases of hay fever, you might be recommended allergy shots. This treatment involves a series of injections containing tiny amounts of allergens, with the aim to desensitize your body's immune response to these allergens over time.

2. Food allergies

Food allergies are very common. Common food allergies vary by age group and region, but there are several foods that frequently cause allergic reactions across many populations. Some people grow out of food allergies, especially if they experience allergic reactions in childhood. Other people have more long-term food allergies and must adapt their diet accordingly.

One of the most common food types to cause severe allergy attacks is peanuts. Peanut allergies can be life-threatening because they can lead to anaphylaxis, which is another word to describe a severe allergic reaction. When this happens, you will experience symptoms very quickly. These are often the swelling of your throat and tongue, difficulty breathing or breathing very fast, wheezing, and feeling dizzy. You may also have a rash that usually spreads across your chest. You can use an adrenaline auto-injector (such as an EpiPen) to treat a severe allergic reaction, but you will need to be prescribed one of these, so you will need to seek medical help immediately if you don't already have one. Shellfish can also cause anaphylaxis. This includes allergies to shrimp, crab, lobster, squid, and scallops. Shellfish allergies are more common in adults.

Other common food allergies include milk, eggs, soy, and wheat. The best thing you can do if you have a food allergy is avoid consuming the food that you're allergic to. It can be difficult cutting out certain food(s) from your diet, especially you enjoy the taste, but it's worth it to protect your long-term health - especially if you experience severe reactions.

3. Dust mite allergies

Dust mite allergies are triggered by tiny creatures called dust mites, which are common in household dust. These microscopic bugs thrive in warm, humid environments and feed on dead skin cells shed. They are not visible to the naked eye, making them pervasive and difficult to completely remove from your home. The symptoms of dust mite allergies are similar to those of other allergies, including sneezing, a runny or stuffy nose, and a cough. You can take regular allergy medication to manage your symptoms, and you can take several measures to reduce your exposure to the allergen. This includes maintaining low indoor humidity, removing carpeting (especially in bedrooms), and regularly cleaning upholstered furniture, curtains, and other areas where dust accumulates.

4. Animal allergies

Animal allergies are allergic reactions to proteins found in an animal's skin cells, saliva, or urine. If you suffer from animal allergies, your immune system will react when you breathe in or come into contact with an animal's dead skin, saliva, or urine. Cats and dogs are the most common sources of animal allergies. Proteins from these animals can stick to furnishings, clothing, and walls, and can remain potent for a long time. You can take medication for animal or pet allergies in the same way you can with other types of allergies (they often cause nasal problems, so anti-congestion medication is recommended), but the best way you can avoid having a reaction is by avoiding coming into contact with the animal you're allergic to.

5. Insect stings

The last most common type of allergy is insect stings.

An allergic reaction to an insect sting can range from mild to severe and, in some cases, be life-threatening. These reactions are triggered by the venom injected by stinging insects like bees, wasps, hornets, and fire ants. The most common reaction to an insect sting is localised pain, swelling, and redness at the sting site. This is normal and not indicative of an allergy - although it can still be very painful and uncomfortable.

The area around the sting may become red and itchy, which is generally mild and manageable. If swelling extends beyond the sting site, you might be having an allergic reaction. For example, a sting on your forearm could cause your entire arm to swell. This can last for several days and indicates an allergic reaction. You might experience anaphylaxis, which you'll need emergency treatment for (an injection).

Get private allergy testing today

Now that you know the five most common types of allergies and treatment options, you might be able to combat your symptoms that little bit easier.

If you're struggling with allergy symptoms and want to know what you're allergic to, you can get private allergy testing with Circle Health Group.

Book a private allergy test today.


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If you're concerned about symptoms you're experiencing or require further information on this subject, talk to a GP or see an expert consultant at your local Circle Hospital.