Allergies on the rise in Australia as the sniffly season sets in
Allergies now affect more than four million Australians – here’s what you need to know.
Australia has one of the highest rates of allergic disorders in the world and allergies are one of the fastest growing chronic conditions in the country.
They’re responsible for around half a million sick days a year and take up about 20 per cent of Australia’s health expenditure.
“Allergies can affect sleep, concentration, performance at work or school and lead to anxiety,” says Professor Pete Smith, medical director of Allergy Medical, in Sydney and Brisbane.
“You can develop allergies at any time of your life, but we don’t know why. It may be hormonal or appear after a virus. But an allergy is usually a combination of genetics and your senses picking up more than other people and your body over-reacting,” he says.
Ultimately, treatment depends on allergy type.
Allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, is often a reaction to pollens, dust mites, mould and pet hair and affects between 15 and 30 per cent of the population.
Symptoms include a runny or itchy nose, sneezing, watery eyes and a congested nose.
Identifying and avoiding the cause of the allergy is the first step. Antihistamines may reduce sneezing and itchiness.
The most common foods to cause a reaction are eggs, milk and nuts, especially peanuts.
An itchy rash, upset stomach, wheezing and anaphylaxis can be the result. It can be life threatening and affect airways, breathing and blood pressure.
Adrenaline is the first line treatment for anaphylaxis. People at risk should carry an EpiPen that administers a dose of adrenaline to reverse the serious effects.
Red, itchy or watery eyes and headaches can by symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis.
It can be triggered by the same irritants that cause hay fever and the two often go together.
“If you treat the nose symptoms, the eye symptoms often improve,” Professor Smith says.
Treat by rinsing out the allergens, antihistamines and nasal steroids.
Immunotherapy can also be used. Patients receive a gradual increasing dose of the allergen that changes how the immune system reacts, eventually allowing them to tolerate it.
Insect bites and stings
In most cases, an insect bite or sting causes itching and swelling, but for some people it can trigger anaphylaxis. Mostly those bitten by a bee, wasp or Australian Jack Jumper ant.
A rash, swollen tongue or throat, trouble breathing, stomach pain and diarrhoea can all be signs of an allergic reaction to a bite or sting.
The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy recommends covering up and not being outdoors at dawn or dusk. Wear light coloured clothing, avoid perfumes and steer clear of bees, wasps, and ants.
For minor reactions, flick out a sting as soon as possible with the edge of your fingernail. Use cold packs and oral antihistamines to reduce itching. Large swellings may need cortisone tablets.
Have you heard The House of Wellness podcast? Hear Allergist and Immunologist, Professor Pete Smith discuss mould in the home and how it can trigger allergies and other health conditions.