Allergies

Do I have allergies?

Allergic reactions usually happen quickly within a few minutes of exposure to an allergen.

They can cause:

  • sneezing
  • a runny or blocked nose
  • red, itchy, watery eyes
  • wheezing and coughing
  • a red, itchy rash
  • worsening of asthma or eczema symptoms

Most allergic reactions are mild, but occasionally a severe reaction called anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock can occur. This is a medical emergency and needs urgent treatment.

What is an allergy?

An allergen is a substance that causes your body to have an allergic reaction. As a defense mechanism your body will produce antibodies to fight what it considers to be a harmful allergen that enters your body. In most cases allergens pose no serious threat, however in some extreme cases reactions may be more severe resulting in an anaphylaxis.

Do I have allergies?

When your body is exposed to an allergic substance, symptoms can appear within minutes.

Common symptoms can include:

  • Sneezing, runny or itching nose
  • Red itchy rash
  • Swelling
  • Itchy eyes, lips and throat
  • Vomiting and diarrhea 

Getting help for allergies

See your GP if you think you or your child might have had an allergic reaction to something.

The symptoms of an allergic reaction can also be caused by other conditions. Your GP can help determine whether it's likely you have an allergy.

If your GP thinks you might have a mild allergy, they can offer advice and treatment to help manage the condition.

If your allergy is particularly severe or it's not clear what you're allergic to, they may refer you to an allergy specialist for testing and advice about treatment.

How can I test if I’m allergic to something?

If you have any of the above symptoms or think that you are allergic to something the best course of action would be to visit your GP who can test for allergies. The first step of managing an allergy is to identify what is causing the reaction.

There are several different ways your GP can test for allergies:

Skin prick test

The most common way of testing, this involves putting a liquid form of the substance on to your forearm, the skin is then pricked to see if a reaction usually in the form of an itchy red bump appears.

Blood test

A blood sample is taken and analysed to see what antibodies your body is producing in response to an allergy.

Patch test

A small amount of the allergen is put on to a metal disc and taped to the skin and monitored.

Elimination diet

You may be asked to cut a suspected food out of your diet. At a later date you may be asked to eat the food to see if you have another reaction.

If you consider yourself to have an allergic reaction, don’t hesitate to visit your GP. You can use our service locator to find your nearest GP or A&E using our service locator.

Is it an allergy, sensitivity or intolerance?

  • allergy – a reaction produced by the body's immune system when exposed to a normally harmless substance
  • sensitivity – the exaggeration of the normal effects of a substance; for example, the caffeine in a cup of coffee may cause extreme symptoms, such as palpitations and trembling
  • intolerance – where a substance causes unpleasant symptoms, such as diarrhoea, but doesn't involve the immune system; people with an intolerance to certain foods can typically eat a small amount without having any problems