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Profile 6-2017
Allergens that trigger allergic reactions

Allergy occurs when immune system of our body produces vigorous immune response through immunoglobulin E (IgE) to mount a defence against foreign substance. The foreign substance that causes allergic reaction is known as allergen.

Allergens can cause allergic reaction through inhalation, ingestion or direct contact. The most common allergies are:

  • Asthma and allergic rhinitis: triggered by inhaling dust mites, pollen, mold, animal fur or dander;
  • Food allergy: caused by eating eggs, milk, seafood or nuts;
  • Skin allergy or eczema: caused by direct skin contact with certain cosmetic products, chemicals, latex or metallic accessories.

Allergy is a very common urban disease. It causes different degrees of inconvenience and impact on the sufferers’ daily life. Eczema makes the skin itchy, red and swollen. It may cause emotional distress to the sufferer as it affects his/her external appearance. Food allergy can cause stomachache, diarrhea or skin rash. Allergic rhinitis causes stuffy nose and frequent sneezing. Asthma patients often suffer from prolonged cough, breathing difficulties and wheezing, which may in turn lead to poor sleep quality and affect work, studies and social life. The impact on children or adolescents are even more detrimental as it could affect their physical and emotional development. In the worst-case scenario, allergies may even lead to anaphylactic shock or death.

To prevent and treat allergies, the most important thing is identify the allergens and to avoid them. Allergens can be identified by careful observation of how one reacts to the environment and food items. It can also be identified by blood test.

Dealing with allergens starts at home. Patients with asthma and allergic rhinitis should avoid having carpet flooring or fluffy toys at home. Bed sheets, blankets and pillow cases should be changed more frequently, and best washed in 60oC water in order to kill the house dust mites. It is also important to maintain good ventilation and low humidity indoors, as well as cleaning up mold in the house. People who are allergic to animal furs should avoid touching or keeping pets, or at least stop pets from going into the bedrooms. The areas where pets move around should be vacuumed and cleaned constantly in order to minimise the allergens.

The above information is provided by Dr. Yung Wai Ming.