Managing your allergies and symptoms

Published in Medicinewise Living

Date published: About this date

About 1 in 3 people develop an allergy at some point in their lives. Some people grow out of their allergies, but many don’t. Still, there are effective ways to prevent and treat the symptoms.

What is an allergy?

An allergy occurs when your immune system identifies a substance (allergen) as harmful and makes specific antibodies to attack it.

Common allergens include:

  • house dust mites
  • animal hair or skin flakes
  • insect stings or bites
  • certain foods
  • pollen
  • mould spores
  • medicines
  • household chemicals.

You can inherit an allergy if someone in your family has an allergy or asthma. You’re also more likely to develop allergies if you are a child or you already have another allergy or asthma.

What are allergy symptoms?

Allergies can trigger various health conditions including hay fever, asthma, conjunctivitis and eczema. Symptoms may be mild or severe and often depend on the allergen and where it enters the body.

Allergy symptoms include:

  • sneezing, a runny or stuffy nose
  • wheezing or coughing
  • red, puffy, watery or itchy eyes
  • tickling or itching in the ears or throat
  • itchy rash, hives or skin welts
  • swelling around the mouth
  • stomach pain, vomiting or diarrhoea.

Serious life-threatening reactions

Sometimes an allergy causes anaphylaxis. This is the most severe form of allergic reaction and can lead to hospitalisation or death if it’s not treated.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis can involve the whole body and include swelling of the tongue or throat, trouble breathing or swallowing, a drop in blood pressure, or collapse.

Peanuts, shellfish, insect stings and medicines are typical allergens that may cause anaphylaxis.

How can I avoid allergens?

Preventing exposure to allergens is the key to managing allergies. A health professional can advise on avoiding allergens specific to your situation.

Some of the most common causes of allergy in Australia are found in the home. Here are some ways to reduce exposure to house dust mites, pets or mould:

  • vacuum carpets, soft toys, and upholstery regularly
  • wash and groom pets outdoors
  • keep rooms dry and ventilated.

How do I treat my symptoms?

Medicines can help treat various symptoms, but they don’t cure an allergy. Get advice from a doctor or pharmacist about suitable allergy medicines.

Anaphylaxis requires urgent first aid treatment. It is vital to inform others about a severe allergy and its management, including family, friends, work colleagues, teachers, childcare workers, and hosts or chefs. Medical identification bracelets or necklaces can also be used to let others know about an allergy.


Antihistamines are commonly used to relieve redness, swelling, itching, sneezing or a runny nose. Severe hay fever, eczema and asthma are often treated with a corticosteroid medicine to reduce inflammation.

Adrenaline injections are a life-saving medicine for reversing anaphylaxis. Two brands in Australia (Anapen and EpiPen) come in a device that can be injected by anyone in an emergency. Ensure that you and others are familiar with the correct technique for a given brand, and check expiry dates regularly.

Other treatments

Some home remedies can help relieve symptoms, such as cold water compresses for red eyes or ice packs for insect stings.

Immunotherapy (or desensitisation) is another type of treatment that changes how the immune system responds to particular allergens. It is mainly used for serious allergies.

When should I see a health professional?

See your doctor if you think you or your child might have an allergy. Diagnosing allergies is not simple and symptoms are often similar to non-allergic conditions, such as colds and some food intolerances. You may also need to be referred to a specialist to confirm an allergy and its cause.

If you haven’t already, get an allergy action plan from your doctor that includes instructions for treatment and emergencies. This is crucial if your allergy causes anaphylaxis.

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