What are allergies?

Allergies are an abnormal immune response to substances that are normally harmless to others.
These substances are known as allergens and can range from food to things in the environment.
The abnormal immune responses are also known as hypersensitivity reactions. This occurs when the body procedures antibiotics known as IgE in response to allergen exposure.

Who gets allergies?

The tendency to get allergies are often hereditary however this does not indicate that your child will definitely get your specific allergies. It just means that they are more prone to getting allergies if you have a history of allergies.

What are the common causes of allergies?

In different places there are different environmental allergens. In Singapore, the common environmental allergens are:

  • House dust mites:
    These are small insects that feed on our dead skin cells. They are commonly present in bedding, carpets and upholstery.
  • Pet dander:
    These are tiny flecks of shed skin from your pets
  • Cockroach:
    The presence of cockroaches or their eggs can cause allergies

The most common food allergens include:

  • Cow’s milk:
    About 2-3% of children less than 3 years old are allergic to the proteins in cow’s milk. Many kids however outgrow these allergies
  • Eggs:
    There are proteins within the egg white that kids can be allergic to. Most kids tend to outgrow egg allergies.
  • Fish and shellfish:
    These allergies are more common within the adult population.
  • Peanuts and tree nuts:
    Peanut allergy is one of the most common causes of severe allergy attacks and has been increasing in children.

How do I know my child may have an allergy?

Allergy manifests in different ways.

Skin allergy: They can have rashes, itchiness and swelling of the lips and eyes

Nasal allergy: This is also known as allergic rhinitis. They can present with sneezing, itchy eyes, blocked nose and sneezing.

Asthma: This can present with wheezing, shortness of breath, cough and difficulty in breathing.

How are allergies diagnosed?

Most of the time, a good clinical history will give an indication of allergies. Sometimes tests such as skin prick test may be needed to determine the type of allergen.

How are allergies treated?

Depending on how the allergies manifest, there are specific treatment methods.

Most of the time, allergen avoidance is necessary. If environmental allergens cannot be avoided, medications such as anithistamines, eye drops or nasal sprays maybe necessary.

In select groups of individuals, immunotherapy maybe required.

For more information about allergic rhinitis and its treatment, click here.