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Allergies: causes, symptoms and facts

Allergy Awareness Week

If you have an allergy to a particular substance such as pollen, food, pet hair or wood/cement dust, you’re most likely suffering from symptoms such as a runny nose (a condition called allergic rhinitis) watery eyes and or a tickly cough, or sore throat you may develop rhinitis. An allergic reaction can vary from person to person and they can even be life-threatening. Read our article to understand allergies better:

What is an allergy?

An allergy is an exaggerated immune response your body has to a particular food or substance, usually to particles of these substances in the air (aeroallergens) you breathe in, but also to those substances you eat or drink or put on your skin (allergic dermatitis).

You can be allergic to almost anything, but the most common substances that your body can become hypersensitive to are foods, pollen, fur, dust or moulds. Allergies are more common in children, but adults can get them too and your immune system (and therefore the allergies you are subject to) can change during your lifetime.

What are the symptoms of an allergic reaction?

The severity of the symptoms of an allergic reaction vary from person to person:

Hay fever

Did you know that one in five people will be affected by hay fever in their lifetime?

Hay fever is an allergic reaction to airborne pollen caused by trees in the spring, grass in the summer and weeds in the autumn. If you suffer with itchy eyes, a streaming nose and an irritated throat when the warmer season arrives, you may have hay fever. Again, the severity of your symptoms will depend on if you have asthma or how sensitive your body is to the pollen. Read our hay fever survival guide that’s not to be sniffed at, to learn more.

Allergic Rhinitis

Rhinitis is inflammation in the inside of your nose which causes symptoms of congestion and the excess production of mucus. This can be of allergic and non-allergic origin. Our Consultant Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon, Mr Robert Hone explains this condition and how we can diagnose and treat it:

“Allergic Rhinitis can occur at any stage of the year and can be perennial, where symptoms are present all year round, most often due to House Dust Mite (dust), or seasonal. The seasonal triggers are often tree pollen in the spring, grass pollen (hay fever) in the summer, and mould in the autumn when the leaves drop from the trees and rot on the ground.

“Allergic rhinitis leads to problems with sneezing and itching and you may get watering eyes. It's important to try and pin down the main triggers for your problem, as if left untreated they make for a miserable quality of life. They may lead to secondary problems in your nose and sinuses with possible chronic sinus inflammation and the formation of nasal polyps.

“There is good evidence also that if the allergic rhinitis is not nipped in the bud, it can lead to the development of asthma and eczema, which is termed the 'allergic march'.”


“As part of our ear, nose and throat service (ENT), we can take a detailed history and examine your nose carefully and thoroughly with a flexible endoscope to fully assess the state of play in your nose and throat. Allergy tests can be helpful to pin down exactly what it is you are allergic to, but only if you have significant symptoms to suggest that allergy is the cause.

“We can look at your total Immunoglobulin (IgE) level in your blood, which is a marker of how much of an overall allergic reaction is occurring at that time and can also test more specifically for individual allergens that you may be allergic to. The ones we usually test for are house dust mites, grass pollen and mould, as well as certain foodstuffs or pets.”


“If your diagnosis is allergic rhinitis, the most important treatment for you is avoiding the allergy trigger, and we can discuss the best way to do this. Antihistamines (either given as a tablet or together with a steroid in a combination nasal spray) and/or steroid nasal sprays alone are also very helpful in the long-term treatment of this condition.

“Nasal sprays are not a cure, and only work while you use them. However, they’re therefore usually a lifelong treatment, akin to an asthmatic taking a daily inhaler to avoid wheezing and shortness of breath. The modern steroid nasal sprays are entirely safe to use in this way.

“Other additional options are the use of salt water douching or salt water sprays to regularly flush out the material that you are breathing into your nose.

“In a small number of cases, immunotherapy to potentially rid you of your allergic tendency altogether may be appropriate, and while this is not a service that suits everybody and is not offered at Benenden Hospital, we could advise you on whether you might be a possible candidate for this in a specialist centre elsewhere.”

Five facts about allergies

1. In recent research, around 49% of people in the UK reported suffering with hay fever symptoms (Allergy UK / Kleenex®, 2020)

2. In the UK, 1-2% of adults have a food allergy. This, combined with the 5-8% of children with a food allergy, equates to about 2 million people. (Food Standards Agency 2016)

3. Allergies are more common in children but adults can develop allergies to substances they were not previously allergic to

4. The most common allergies include grass and tree pollen (hay fever), dust mites, medicines and food such as nuts, eggs and shellfish

5. Allergies are thought to affect more than one in four people in the UK at some point in their lives

Speak to our ear, nose and throat (ENT) experts

At Benenden Hospital, our experienced Consultants offer a wide range of self-pay treatments for the ear, nose and throat. Our ENT service provides the latest treatments in modern facilities to help you to get a diagnosis and to ease the symptoms of your allergies.

To ease the symptoms of your allergies or to seek a diagnosis, find out more about the ENT treatments we offer. To book, complete our online enquiry form or contact our Private Patient Team via Livechat or on 01580 363158.

Published on 26 April 2024