Allergies at a glance
If you’re affected by asthma and allergies, you’re not alone.
About 80 percent of people with asthma have allergies like hay fever, which can cause their asthma symptoms to flare up.
Allergies can occur when a person’s immune system reacts to substances, known as allergens, that are usually harmless to most people.
Examples of allergens include house dust mites, pollen, mould and pet dander.
Contact with one of these substances can cause a person with allergies to develop a reaction that leads to redness and swelling. This can affect:
- Breathing – asthma and hay fever
- Skin – dermatitis, eczema and hives
- Eyes – allergic conjunctivitis
- Whole body – anaphylaxis (rare but serious)
Allergies may run in families. The genetic or inherited tendency to develop allergic diseases is known as atopy.
What you can do
Allergies can make life rather miserable for millions of Australians and New Zealanders – particularly in certain periods of the year like late spring and early summer, when there are high levels of pollen in the air.
Know your triggers
Triggers are different for everyone so it’s important to work out whether certain triggers affect you. Your doctor can work with you to identify possible allergic triggers and help you understand how they affect your asthma.
Most people are allergic to more than one trigger and sometimes the response is different. For example, you might get itchy eyes around cats but a runny nose during pollen season.
The severity of the allergic reaction varies between people and depends on the circumstances. A reaction may not be immediate.
It is important to work out which allergens in your environment trigger your asthma. Avoiding or reducing your exposure to these allergens may be an important part of managing your asthma.
Your doctor will ask you questions to identify your possible allergic triggers and order or perform allergy testing.
The two main allergy tests are skin prick tests, and blood tests for serum specific IgE* (previously referred to as RAST** tests). These tests identify antibodies to specific allergens.
The best way to manage allergies is to avoid the allergens, but this can often be a challenge.
Efforts to avoid or reduce allergy exposure can also be costly, time-consuming or impractical, and may not work for every person or circumstance.
However, once you know what to focus on, you can try and take steps to avoid triggers or reduce their impact.
For more information on how to limit your exposure to specific triggers, visit our Know Your Triggers page.
The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) advises:
- Do not exclude foods that are potential allergy triggers (e.g. peanuts) from your diet while pregnant as there is no evidence that this will prevent allergies in your baby.
- Introduce solid foods from around 4-6 months while still breastfeeding.
- Give one new food at a time; if a food is tolerated, continue to give this as a part of a varied diet. If there is any reaction to any food, you should avoid that food until you can see a doctor about a possible food allergy.