“Every season can be an allergy season, depending on what you’re allergic to.”

- Clara Chung

What does it mean to have an allergy?


The human immune system is geared towards protecting the body against invaders such as bacteria, viruses and certain harmful chemicals.

However, for some people, the immune system reacts abnormally to an ordinarily harmless substance.

These substances, which can include the protein components in certain foods, dust mites, some types of medication and food preservatives, insect bites and pollens are called allergens, or antigens.

When the immune system detects an allergen, it reacts by producing antibodies, or sending white blood cells to the area to attack the perceived invader. This leads to a chain reaction in the cells, ultimately leading to the release of potent chemicals such as histamines.

An allergy can sometimes just be a cause of irritation, which either resolves itself, or responds to the taking of antihistamines.

Typical mild symptoms can include a runny nose, itchy skin, hives, sneezing, a stuffy nose, red or watery eyes, a post-nasal drip, or dark circles under the eyes. Allergic reactions can last for anything from a few minutes, to years, such as in the case of eczema or chronic hives (urticaria).

A severe allergic reaction, called anaphylactic shock, requires immediate medical attention, as it can be fatal. Symptoms of this includes a raised, red skin rash, swollen eyes, lips, hands and feet, dizziness, swelling of the mouth, tongue and throat, breathing difficulties, wheezing, nausea and vomiting, collapse and unconsciousness.

In order to control allergies, it’s best to avoid the allergen, but this isn’t always possible. If you’re prone to allergies, it might be wise to carry antihistamines with you at all times. Ask your pharmacist for a non-drowsy antihistamine, and see a doctor if your symptoms become severe.

(Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is to provide general background information and not to substitute any medical diagnosis or advice received from a qualified healthcare professional.)


– American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Conditions Dictionary, 2015. [Online] Available at: Accessed: 27 July 2015
– Professor Eugene Weinberg. What are allergies? Health24. 5 February 2013. [Online] Available at: Accessed: 27 July 2015
– NHS. Introduction to anaphylaxis. 4 December 2014 (date of last review). [Online] Available at: Accessed: 27 July 2015

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