Allergy Awareness Week - the link between air pollution and allergies

General Health

This week is allergy awareness week, a week dedicated to highlighting the difficulties people with allergies can face. What better to time to investigate those niggling symptoms and see if an allergy could be to blame?

02/05/2019


Emily Condon
BSc (Hons) Biological Sciences

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Allergy Awareness Week

According to Allergy UK, allergy is the most common chronic disease in Europe and is thought to affect more than 1 in 4 people in the UK at some point in their lives [1], with the number of people developing allergies on the rise [2]. The focus this year for Allergy Awareness Week is air quality and the allergens around us.

What is an allergy?

An allergy is a condition which occurs when the body overreacts to a substance that is harmless to the body called an allergen. When someone has an allergy, their immune system produces antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE) which respond to the allergen. IgE antibodies cause the release of chemicals, including histamine into the bloodstream. These chemicals are responsible for causing the symptoms of an allergic reaction. There are many different types of IgE, each sensitive to a different allergen. 
 
Allergy symptoms vary from person to person but common symptoms include itching of the throat and/or tongue, swelling the lips, tongues, eyes and face, trouble breathing and dizziness. Anaphylaxis is a severe, extreme allergic reaction where the whole body is affected, often within minutes of being exposed to the allergen. Symptoms of anaphylaxis can include swelling of throat and mouth, difficulting speaking, severe asthma, collapse and unconsciousness. If an individual is suffering from an anaphylactic shock, they require immediate medical assistance and treatment.

What can cause an allergic reaction?

Currently, it is not yet fully understood why certain substances trigger an allergic reaction and others do not, or why some people have multiple allergies whilst others do not suffer any allergic reactions. Allergies are common in children and whilst some allergies may go away as the child ages, allergies can be lifelong. It is possible for adults to develop allergies to things they weren't previously allergic to. Many types of foods are capable of causing an allergic reaction in some people. Common allergens include milk, peanuts and other nuts, shellfish and wheat. There are many other allergens that are not food types including bee/wasp stings, grass, certain medicines and animal dander.

There are many theories as to why allergies are rising so rapidly, including us being overly clean, antibiotic use and environmental changes.

Increasingly it is thought that pollution plays a major role in the development of allergies. Our urban environments and huge energy consumption expose us to not only an increased quantity of air pollution, but also a greater variety of pollutants [3], and these are thought to be the main factors in the rapid increase and worsening of allergies [4]. The reason for this could be that pollutants cause allergic sensitisation, a process where the immune system produces antibodies, making an allergic reponse in the airways more likely. However, more research is needed to fully understand why allergies are rising so rapidly.

What can we do about it?

This week marks the beginning of a 12 month campaign that hopes to raise awareness of the impact of poor air quality and the link between poor air quality and allergies. The aim is to encourage more people to get involved in activities such as travelling by public transport to reduce pollution, meal planning an allergen-free menu and buying local so as to reduce air miles. As well as increasing the knowledge, understanding and better management of allergic conditions. Find out more about Allergy Awareness here.

How can I know if my symptoms are due to an allergic response?

Whether you have typical allergy symptoms or whether you have ongoing unexplained and vague symptoms, a blood test is the quickest way to confirm whether your symptoms are due to an allergy. We understand that allergies vary from person to person and because of this we provide a wide range of different allergen tests. Our Allergy Mini Check measures the level of IgE in the blood - an simple, convenient way to confrim if you are experiencing an allergic reaction. If you think you know what you are allergic to but would like to confirm, our Individual Allergen test offers a simple way to pick from over 400 different allergens to see if you are allergic. If you think you may be experiencing allergy symptoms but you’re not sure what it is exactly that is causing your symptoms, we have a number of different allergy screens that include tests for a wide variety of different allergens. Our Allergy Screen UK checks for the most common allergens in the UK including peanuts, soya and wheat whilst our Allergy Screen (Inhalants and Foods) include a comprehensive list of common allergens which are inhaled or eaten in foods. Take advantage of £10 off our Allergy Mini Check throughout May to investigate your symptoms further. Find all our allergy tests here.


References 

[1] NHS.UK. (2019). Allergies. [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/allergies/ [Accessed 29 Apr. 2019].

[2] BBC News. (2019). Why the world is becoming more allergic. [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-46302780 [Accessed 29 Apr. 2019].

[3] Takano, H. and Inoue, K. (2017). Environmental pollution and allergies. Journal of Toxicologic Pathology, 30(3), pp.193-199.

[4] Lee, S., Chang, Y. and Cho, S. (2013). Allergic diseases and air pollution. Asia Pacific Allergy, 3(3), p.145.


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