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Allergies are blighting lives

PUBLISHED: 10:00 27 September 2002 | UPDATED: 12:43 03 March 2010

WAS your summer substantially marred by the annoyance of hayfever? Have you lived with that and other frustrating allergies for much of your life?

It's thought that at least half the population suffers from some sort of sensitivity and here, in the first part of a series on allergies, The Evening Star takes a look at why we're seeing a higher

incidence of such problems.

WAS your summer substantially marred by the annoyance of hayfever? Have you lived with that and other frustrating allergies for much of your life?

It's thought that at least half the population suffers from some sort of sensitivity and here, in the first part of a series on allergies, The Evening Star takes a look at why we're seeing a higher

incidence of such problems. Debbie Watson reports.

IF it's not hayfever it will be asthma.

And if it's not asthma, then it's just as likely to be eczema, dermatitis, a food intolerance or some other infuriating nuisance.

Allergies are rapidly on the increase in the western world, and despite our best efforts, some of them can be incredibly hard to live with – and even harder to budge.

Experts now claim that allergies are fast becoming a way of life for the majority of the population, with rising numbers of children being born with one type of allergy-linked reaction or another.

At the least traumatic end of the spectrum, they can cause relatively painless problems like sneezing, itchy eyes or coughing.

At the worst, it can cause a very small minority to suffer life-threatening reactions – called 'anaphylaxis'.

In terms of numbers the most common allergy-linked problem is asthma.

A condition best known for inducing wheezing and shortness of breath, it's been suggested asthma may be linked to increased

pollution levels.

Nowadays, around 3.4 million people in the UK suffer from it – about 1.4 million of whom have their life severely affected by the condition.

It's such a problem locally that The Evening Star has a campaign to highlight the effects of this debilitating illness.

"We know that asthma has been increasing over the last few decades, but we still don't know exactly what causes it," commented spokeswoman for the National Asthma Campaign, Caroline Moye.

"It may be that someone has an allergy – to pets or house dust – and it's this which triggers their underlying asthma.

"Like skin or any other allergies, it's these triggers which are important. They affect individuals and spark reactions."

Ms Moye added: "Several recent studies have suggested that pollution causes asthma, but still it would be wrong to rule out any one thing.

"There is a lot of research still to be done."

In spring and summer the one aggravation which plagues numerous lives is hayfever.

Associated with streaming eyes, relentless sneezing and particularly sore eyes, this problem hits between two and three million Britons.

It is caused largely by breathing in pollen, or pollen getting into the eyes.

Mr Matthew Yung is an ear nose and throat (ENT) surgeon at Ipswich Hospital and claims this probably affects a great number of the patients he sees.

"Hayfever is a big problem for people and very often, when they come to us with persistent nose and throat problems, we are able to link it to specific allergens," he said.

"We can do two specific tests to identify what the problem is: the 'skin prick test', and the 'skin patch test'."

The skin prick test essentially interprets allergic symptoms in a patient by pricking the skin with an allergen. Dilute versions of things like pollen and house dust are used in this painless process.

Patch tests are used where treatment has been failing for a patient – helping to establish which antibiotic is then more appropriate for the individual.

"Each case is very different," insisted Mr Yung. "No two people will find their hayfever exactly alike so it's often really helpful for them to have their conditions properly analysed through a clinic like ours."

He is convinced that allergies – in general – are on the rise.

"I think it's accepted universally that allergy symptoms are on the up," said Mr Yung. "I think we can safely say that pollution is a big factor."

He added: "It's really important that if people want to have their allergy correctly identified they go to the right clinic for their problem.

"At the hospital we can pinpoint various allergies through ENT, others through Dermatology and some in Pediatrics. There isn't a central 'Allergy Clinic' for everything, simply because there are so many specific problems to be dealt with."

And even with all these clinics and services available, some people will potentially never fully trace the proper cause of an apparent reaction.

Given the stressed world we live in, in which time is short and obligations are plenty, it's quite plausible that our bodies are simply facing immune systems that merely need more relaxation.

And that's not necessarily something that a doctor can prescribe you!

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