Dr. Phelan By General Practitioner Published:

From peanuts to pollen and dairy to dust mites, lots of people seek allergy advice for themselves or a member of their family.

An allergy is the body’s reaction to a particular substance, and they are very common.

Many people are allergic to things found in households everywhere, such as mould, animals and chemicals, including detergents and hair dyes. Some people are allergic to medications such as penicillin antibiotics.

Most allergic reactions are relatively mild but occasionally, someone will react so severely to an allergen that an anaphylactic shock can happen.

This is a real medical emergency where the lips and tongue swell and there is restricted breathing and needs urgent treatment.

Managing an allergy

Once diagnosed, the most effective way to manage an allergy is to avoid the allergens that cause a reaction.

This isn’t always easy, though it is often possible to manage allergies.

If you or your child have a food allergy, you need to be careful with the meals you prepare. Always read food labels too.

Keep animal allergies under control by washing them regularly.

Keep your home damp-free and well ventilated to help manage mould allergies.

Remaining indoors when the pollen count is high will help minimise hay fever, and replacing carpets with hard flooring will help with dust mite allergies.

If you think you or your child has an allergy, outline the symptoms to your doctor – keep a diary of when and how often they happen, and what seems to trigger them.

Allergy advice and testing

Where there is a severe allergic reaction and the cause is not obvious, your doctor will discuss referring you for allergy testing. These tests can include skin prick testing, blood tests and patch testing.

If a food allergy is suspected, you may be advised to undergo a supervised elimination diet or a challenge test, where instead of going without a particular food, you are given the food in increasing amounts to gauge how your body reacts.

The challenge test is the most accurate way to diagnose a food allergy, but it’s very risky and should always be carried out under close supervision in a clinic, where a severe reaction can be treated quickly.

Allergies such as hay fever can have a real impact on those who suffer, but there are plenty of treatment options that can mean symptoms can be minimised.

It’s easier to treat mild allergies that have a clear cause and many allergy medicines, such as antihistamines, are available from a pharmacist, but when symptoms are more troublesome, talk to your GP who can consider stronger treatment.

Allergy Awareness Week 2016 runs from April 25 to May 1.