An allergy is the response of the body’s immune system to substances which are usually harmless, such as peanuts, pollens, and animal fur. In most people these substances (allergens) don’t cause any problems, but the immune system of people who are allergic to the allergen identifies it as ‘a threat’ and causes an ‘allergic reaction’.

A large range of substances cause allergens. Common causes include:

  • Environmental allergens: house dust mite, pollens, animal furs and moulds (fungi).
  • Foods: peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk, and sea foods
  • Insect stings: bee, wasp, hornet

Allergy causes a range of symptoms including:

  • Hay fever/Rhinitis (runny, itchy nose)
  • Conjunctivitis (Itchy, watery eyes)
  • Asthma
  • Skin reactions: hives (‘nettle rash’), swelling, eczema

The most severe form of allergy is anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency and is treated with an injection of adrenaline/ epinephrine (e.g. Epipen, Jext, Emerade). The emergency services must always be called. Symptoms of anaphylaxis may include

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Swelling of the throat
  • Collapse, pale colour

Some people have intolerances. These people may have a reaction when coming into contact with a substance but the reaction is not caused by the immune system. For example, people with lactose intolerance aren’t able to digest lactose in their diet leading to abdominal symptoms whenever they consume milk products.

People with suspected allergy should be assessed by a doctor to identify the trigger allergens. The doctor or specialist nurse should discuss a management plan with the patient or family that includes how to avoid trigger allergens, and how to recognise & treat allergic reactions including anaphylaxis.

Allergic disorders including asthma, eczema, hay fever and food allergies have increased in prevalence and severity in recent years. Allergies now affect up to one in four adults and one in three children in the UK. The research programme at the University of Southampton covers all ages to answer key questions raised by the increasing prevalence and severity of allergic diseases.

Allergy Research
AAIR Charity provides vital funding to support research aiming to:

  • understand why people develop allergies
  • improve treatment of allergy
  • prevent allergy

AAIR charity supports researchers of allergy in the early stages of their career- PhD students and MSc Allergy students receive funding for projects ranging between a few months and 3 years. These early career researchers, supervised by world leading allergy researchers at University of Southampton will become key researchers of allergic diseases in the future.

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