NPN | Allergies

An allergy is an immune response to a substance that should otherwise be completely harmless. When your immune system is triggered by the substance - an allergen - the response can vary from mild to severe as the body produces a chemical called histamine, the body’s first line of defence against pathogens.

Common symptoms include:

  • Sneezing and an itchy, runny or blocked nose

  • Itchy, red, watering eyes

  • Wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and a cough

  • A raised, itchy, red rash

  • Swollen lips, tongue, eyes or face

  • Tumming pain, feeling sick, vomiting or diarrhoea

  • Dry, red and cracked skin

These symptoms are the body’s way of “ejecting” the potential threat, through vomiting, itching, sneezing and watering of the eyes. Whilst the allergen doesn’t actually pose a real danger, the body reacts as if the threat is real, and in severe cases, it’s the allergic response that threatens the individual’s health.

More than 20% of us are affected by one or more allergic disorders, and children have a 50% prevalence. Managing the condition can range from taking an antihistamine once a day, to emergency treatments administering a dose of adrenaline to those in anaphylactic shock as a result of severe allergies.

“Allergy is the most common chronic disease in Europe. Up to 20% of patients with allergies struggle daily with the fear of a possible asthma attack, anaphylactic shock, or even death from an allergic reaction.”

Since the UK has some of the highest prevalence of allergic conditions globally, pharmacies have begun to offer comprehensive allergy services including testing, advice on avoiding triggers, and offering effective treatments.

Common allergies in the UK include seasonal allergies like hayfever, where pollen from trees, grasses and flowers are considered allergens. Around ⅓ of adults report having hayfever, with younger adults more prone than older adults. Staying indoors to avoid the risk of exposure to pollen doesn’t always help, because most allergens responsible for immune reactions can be found in the home. Dust mites, mould spores and pet dander can all create allergy symptoms such as eczema, runny noses and itchy eyes.

Less common are food allergies, but these can be more severe and even life-threatenings. The most common allergies to food include cow’s milk and nut allergies, and pharmacists can offer allergy testing in their consultation rooms, in addition to offering advice on avoiding these allergens.

The most common form of allergy treatment is the over-the-counter oral antihistamines, which your pharmacist can advise you on - some patients may need to try more than one of the typical OTC antihistamines before they find one that works best for them. Emollients can help with eczema symptoms by creating protective barriers on the top layer of skin. For allergic reactions that make breathing difficult, corticosteroids can help treat inflammation and swelling, and are available in various forms including nasal sprays and asthma inhalers.


If you’re concerned about allergens in your daily life, pop in to your local pharmacy to have a conversation about allergy testing and treatment.