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Allergies: What is an allergy?

  1. Allergies have many different symptoms, from red eyes or itchy skin to coughing and wheezing, severe nausea or sudden collapse. However, these symptoms are all caused by the same basic process, the allergic reaction. The symptoms that occur depend on where in the body the allergic reaction occurs and how severe it is.

The allergic reaction

  1. An allergic reaction is carried out by the immune system


  1. For a variety of reasons, some people are more likely to develop allergies than others. But the allergic reaction does not occur when someone first comes into contact with the allergen. After this initial exposure, that person's immune system "learns" to recognize the allergen. This can take several days or weeks and we call it sensitization

Types of allergies

  1. Allergies are caused by exposure to allergens - and there are thousands of possible allergens. Some people are allergic to one or two types, while others are allergic to many different types. The list includes natural substances such as pollen, flakes of skin, animal hair or feathers, tiny mold spores and powdery excrement from tiny bugs that we dust mites

In contact with the body

  1. Allergens come into contact with the body in many different ways. Some affect an external part, such as the skin or eyes, or are inhaled through the nose, throat and lungs. Others are eaten and reach the stomach and digestive system, or are injected into the body in the form of drugs. The way the allergen comes into contact with the body affects the symptoms. With hay fever (seasonal rhinitis)

A terrifying meal

  1. Neil Drummond, 18 years old, lives in London. Neil discovered he had a food allergy when he was eight, while on vacation with his parents in the South of France. One evening in a restaurant they ordered bouillabaisse, a type of soup made from sea creatures. Neil tried a few sips of the bouillabaisse, but he didn't like it. Within minutes he developed itchy red patches on his skin and his neck and chin swelled. He soon felt better, but his parents thought he might be allergic to marine animals, so they didn't eat this for the rest of the vacation. At home, Neil went to the doctor and the tests showed he was allergic to shellfish.

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