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Allergy occurs when a person's immune system reacts to substances in the environment that are harmless for most people. When a person who is allergic to a particular allergen comes into contact with it, an allergic reaction occurs.



Immune cells try to fight off the allergen and release a substance called histamine, which causes swelling and inflammation. This allergic histamine response is extremely irritating and uncomfortable and in some people can be mild or could be potentially life threatening in others.


The most common causes of allergic reactions are:

  • Food – such as crustaceans, eggs, fish, milk, sesame, soy products, peanuts and tree nuts such as almonds, cashews, pecans and walnuts
  • Plants – pollen from grasses and plants
  • Medicines -­­ from some prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines or herbal preparations
  • Insects – such as dust mites and the venom from bees, ticks and wasps
  • Moulds – such as mushroom and mould spores
  • Animal sources – such as the fur and skin from domestic pets
  • Chemicals – including industrial and household chemicals and chemical products such as latex rubber.



Different allergens will illicit different allergic responses, but symptoms will usually affect the nose and eyes, the skin or the lungs. Common symptoms include:

  • dry, irritating coughing bursts,
  • sneezing,
  • runny nose,
  • red, watery and itchy eyes,
  • wheezing or coughing,
  • breathing problems,
  • headache,
  • skin rash,
  • stomach pains, and
  • vomiting and diarrhoea.


Most allergic reactions are mild or moderate, however in some severe cases, it can be life threatening.


Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that needs urgent medical attention. Peanuts, other nuts, insect stings and some medicines are the most common allergens that cause anaphylaxis. Within minutes of exposure to the allergen, individuals can have potentially life-threatening symptoms, which include:

  • difficult or noisy breathing,
  • swelling of the tongue,
  • swelling or tightness in the throat,
  • difficulty talking or a hoarse voice,
  • wheeze or persistent cough, and/or
  • loss of consciousness or collapse.


Several factors can influence the severity of anaphylaxis, including exercise, heat, alcohol and the amount of exposure to allergen.



Treatment options
Currently there is no cure for allergies but the best treatment is prevention; identify which allergen(s) are potential triggers and avoid exposure.

Speak to your health care professional for further treatments and advice.



The content displayed on this webpage is intended for informational purposes and is a guide only. It does not replace or substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Information contained on this webpage must be discussed with an appropriate healthcare professional before making any decisions or taking any action based on the content of this webpage.



Better Health Channel (allergy)





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