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Allergic diseases affect people’s quality of life, both physically and psychologically2. They also have a socioeconomic impact – and they’re on the rise in many parts of the world2. A third of South Africans experience an allergic disease during their lifetimes3. People with an inherited predisposition to allergies are described as being atopic and the predisposition is known as atopy1. Allergic diseases are the most common chronic diseases in children, with 40% of allergy sufferers being children3.

Some of the most common allergic diseases are3:

  • Eczema
  • Asthma
  • Allergic rhinitis (hay fever)
  • Urticaria
  • Food allergy
  • Anaphylaxis

The environmental trigger for an allergic response is called an allergen1. These differ from person to person in that something that is an allergen for one person may not cause an allergic response in another person1.

In South Africa, common allergens include1:

  • Dust mites
  • Pollen
  • Cockroaches
  • Insect stings
  • Moulds
  • Furry animals, such as cats and dogs
  • Medicines
  • Certain foods, such as eggs, peanuts, cow’s milk, seafood, and soy

When an atopic person is exposed to an allergen that they’re sensitive to, their body releases chemicals into their blood that cause inflammation and allergy symptoms1. These symptoms frequently affect1:

  • Nose, eyes, sinus passages and throat: Hay fever
  • Skin: Swelling, eczema, and hives
  • Lungs: Asthma
  • Gut: Food allergy

In severe allergy cases, a person may experience a dangerous and sometimes life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis, which spreads very quickly to involve more than one part of the body1. The most common triggers of anaphylaxis are1:

  • Peanuts
  • Shellfish
  • Insect stings
  • Medicines