It’s time to take allergy seriously

A report by leading charity Allergy UK to mark Allergy Awareness Week suggests there is still a serious lack of awareness about allergies among the general public, with almost half of those who have an allergy believing they’re not taken seriously.

When the charity’s researchers asked more than two thousand people about their attitudes and perceptions of allergy, 41 percent who have an allergy said they felt their condition has been dismissed by others. Thirty-nine percent said they hadn’t been taken seriously at work, with 35 percent feeling they’d had their allergy dismissed at home.

Meanwhile, a third of those who don’t have an allergy admitted they’re sceptical when someone says they have an allergy: 24 percent also describe them as attention seekers, 27 percent accuse them of being hypochondriacs, and 20 percent believe they’re just fussy.

Almost one in 10 people without allergies also said they didn’t think allergy is a serious medical condition. Forty percent also said they didn’t think having an allergy is a good enough excuse to take time off work.

“Our research shows the extent of the misunderstanding surrounding allergy in 2016,” says Lindsey McManus, deputy CEO at the charity.

“Despite the progress made over the last 25 years in allergy awareness, these new results highlight the reality of the condition is still not understood by the general public and attitudes haven’t moved with the times. These misconceptions and harmful judgements are often more difficult for the UK’s 21 million allergy sufferers to live with than the practical aspects of managing the condition.”

Life-threatening condition

According to Allergy UK, more than four in 10 people in Britain have an allergy or have children who have allergies. And despite what some people may think, allergies can be potentially dangerous. More than 20,000 hospital admissions in England are currently due to allergic reactions, more than 60 percent of which are emergencies, says the charity.

“I wish people without allergies could walk a day in my shoes to see how hard it is,” says Josh Abbott, a 24-year-old who has a severe allergy (anaphylaxis) to nuts, and is also allergic to barley and perfume.

Four years ago Josh had to give up an apprenticeship at a barbers because the products he was using triggered a type of eczema called contact dermatitis. He says he experiences ignorance towards his allergies on a daily basis.

“People say I’m exaggerating and just want attention,” he explains. “Recently someone was joking about throwing a peanut at me just to see what happens. If he had really done this I fear it could have been fatal. This is something completely out of my control. I’m not asking people to feel sorry for me, but I wish they would try and understand.”

Lack of understanding

The survey also reveals some people have a lack of awareness of what an allergy is, with 32 percent incorrectly identifying chest pain, 25 percent psoriasis and 18 percent acne as signs of an allergic condition.

This lack of awareness is frightening, says Lindsey. “Not only is an allergic reaction terrifying, it is very real and can be serious,” she says. “If someone fails to recognise the symptoms and take it seriously, the consequences could be fatal.

“Imagine never dining out because you fear the restaurant might inadvertently put your life at risk by serving food you are allergic to – or caring for your new born baby, who is constantly screaming in pain due to an allergic reaction to cow’s milk.”

Josh is well aware of the shortfalls in public awareness of how serious allergies can be. “If I was to suddenly go into anaphylactic shock from exposure to nuts in public, I doubt anyone around me would recognise the symptoms or even know what to do,” he says.

“That really scares me. I wish people knew how it feels on a daily basis to rely on strangers to potentially save your life.”

How to spot a severe allergy

The signs of anaphylaxis include itchy skin or a raised red rash; swollen lips, mouth, tongue or throat; swollen eyes, hands and feet; wheezing; fainting or lightheadedness; stomach pain, nausea and vomiting; collapse and unconsciousness.

If you’re with someone who goes into an anaphylactic shock, they should receive an injection of adrenaline as quickly as possible (if they have a history of anaphylaxis, they will carry an adrenaline auto-injector).

Inject their outer thigh muscle, holding the injector in place for five to 10 seconds. Call 999 for an ambulance, and make them life flat with their legs raised (if they’re finding it difficult to breathe, they should sit up).

In the meantime give a second injection after five to 10 minutes if they’re still feeling unwell or if they improve but become unwell again.

There’s more information on anaphylaxis on the NHS Choices website.

Your local Careway pharmacist can help if you have an allergy. If you take medication for your allergy and you want to find out more about it, your pharmacist is the best person to speak to. Pharmacies also stock over-the-counter medicines for common allergies, such as hay fever and skin allergies.

To find out more, pop into your nearest Careway pharmacy today (use our pharmacy finder at www.careway.co.uk/find-a-pharmacy).