As many as one in three Australians are affected by allergies and experts say that number is on the rise. But there are things you can do to manage, reduce or prevent allergic reactions.
Words: Jessica Gadd
Recent research has revealed that Australia boasts a dubious honour – one of the highest allergy rates in the world. This was highlighted in the Health Nuts Study (2010), which found that one in 10 Australian children had a food allergy.
“You could say this evidence points to Australia being on the verge of a food allergy epidemic,” says the leader of the study, associate professor Katie Allen, a paediatric gastroenterologist and allergist from Melbourne’s Murdoch Childrens Research Institute. Professor Allen says the problem is that no one knows why allergy rates are increasing.
“We do know it’s something to do with lifestyle factors, because this change in prevalence has occurred more rapidly than we could have anticipated if just the genes were changing,” says Professor Allen.
But it’s not just children who suffer from allergies – according to the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA), around one in three Australians will experience allergies at some point during their lifetime.
Correct diagnosis is essential to ensure you’re treating the right thing. Allergy testing determines which substances (allergens) you have an allergic reaction to. The type of test depends on the type of allergy and may involve skin prick tests, blood tests, elimination diets or patch tests.
People with food or insect allergies or some forms of eczema can usually avoid the cause of their allergy. But for people with allergies to things like pollen, dust mites, mould and animals, it can be more difficult to avoid exposure. However, there are steps you can take and we suggest referring to theASCIA website allergy.org.au for detailed fact sheets on how to manage these allergies.
Treat the symptoms
There are many over-the-counter medications you can purchase from a pharmacy, such as antihistamines or corticosteroid nasal sprays and creams, which are used to relieve such symptoms as sneezing, a runny nose, itchy eyes, wheezing, coughing and rashes. Always check with your doctor or pharmacist about which type is best suited for your symptoms.
The longer term
Unfortunately, although treatable, there is no guaranteed cure for allergic disorders. For some allergic disorders, immunotherapy (also called desensitisation) may help. Immunotherapy exposes a person to increasing amounts of a particular allergen to a point where they no longer have symptoms when exposed to ‘normal’ amounts of that allergen, or they experience reduced symptoms.
It can take four to five months or more of immunotherapy treatment for results to show, and the treatment may need to occur for up to five years (to decrease the chance that the allergies might return). Immunotherapy can usually take place in conjunction with other allergy medications and should always be conducted under medical supervision.
It’s important to remember that some reactions to allergens can be life threatening. In an emergency, always call 000.
Information provided in this article is not medical advice and you should consult with your healthcare practitioner. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.