All I Need is the Air that I Breathe!
Allergies are very common and affect about one in three New Zealanders at some time in their lives. Allergies, including food allergies, appear to be increasing. The cause for this increase is not known. An allergy occurs when a person’s immune system over-reacts to substances — called an allergen — in the environment. This is an IgE specific immune response. In the case of airborne allergies the reaction generally occurs when the allergen is passed through the airways and taken into the lungs although an allergic response is usually seen simply on skin contact. The most common airborne triggers of allergic reactions in New Zealand are:
• dust mites
• birch, flax, or grass pollen, English Plantain is a particular problem
• the hair of cats and other furry or hairy animals such as dogs, horses, and rabbits
Skin contact or inhalation of an airborne allergen can lead to symptoms of skin rash, swelling of the eyes, hay fever and asthma. Airborne allergens are not often a trigger for anaphylaxis. The cornerstone in treating an allergy is first and foremost having an accurate diagnosis, and secondly avoiding the triggers that have been identified. This will prevent any uncomfortable or upsetting reactions and let you manage your allergy, rather than having it control you.
An accurate diagnosis is heavily dependent of a clear account of what has happened around the reactions. Keeping a symptom diary can be very helpful in identifying the triggers of your allergy. Allergy tests (skin prick tests or blood (RAST or Cap RAST) tests) can be performed to help diagnose allergies – but these tests have their limitations. A positive test to a specific allergen does not mean this allergen is the cause of the allergic response; it indicates the person is sensitised to the allergen, but does not necessarily develop an allergic response. The allergy tests are only helpful if they are carried out in the context of the account of the allergic response.