There are both genetic and environmental contributions to developing an allergy. As such, it is often observed that allergies tend to run in families, highlighting a genetic component. The genetic susceptibility to allergy is known as 'atopy'. Whether an atopic individual goes on to develop an allergy depends upon whether they actually become sensitised to an allergen.
Sensitisation can happen at any stage of life. For instance, one person may become sensitised in the womb or in the first year of life to allergens like house dust mite and go on to develop asthma. Another person may develop occupational asthma well into adult life when they go to work in a bakery and become sensitised to allergens in flour dust. Many genes that are involved, or potentially involved, in atopy have been identified. Working out how these genes interact with environmental allergens is challenging, but is the way forward to a true scientific understanding of allergy.
Allergy may play a role in the following conditions:
However, the allergy may not be the cause and the only way to be sure is to perform an allergy test, to identify culprit allergens or to conduct blood tests to check for the presence of antibodies. Contact your GP to have these tests carried out.
In the UK, hay fever is the most common allergy with around 30 per cent of the population stating that they suffer from this type of allergic rhinitis. Asthma, which can be much more serious, affects 1 in 10 children and 1 in 20 adults in the UK.
In the UK, the most common allergens that could trigger allergy are:
Other allergens include:
Some children have a clinical history marked by sensitising to an allergen as a baby, then eczema in early childhood, followed by allergic asthma or rhinitis as they get older. We know these conditions are related and the concept of the allergic march is that one condition actually leads to the other. This, however, may be prevented because there seems to be some evidence that suggests dealing with early hay fever, by using the right allergy relief products, may prevent asthma later on. To find out more about the allergic march visit our blog post, The Allergic March.
Only you will know if lifestyle factors like diet and stress levels affect your allergy symptoms. The main factor influencing allergies is exposure to your specific allergens, which should be kept to a minimum by practising allergen avoidance/environmental allergen control.
As mentioned above, allergen avoidance is the key to managing an allergic condition. Allergy specialists should be giving advice on avoidance as part of a treatment plan.