What are allergies?

What are allergies?

When you have a sore throat and flu-like symptoms, it can often be difficult to identify the exact cause of your illness. There are plenty of infections that can cause similar symptoms – plus, you have to consider that allergies may be playing a role. To make it easier to tell which is which, it can be helpful to learn more about what allergies are and how they work.

What is an allergy?

In simple terms, an allergy is a condition where your body reacts to harmless substances as if they are harmful. The presence or proximity of such substances causes a response from your immune system, leading to familiar symptoms such as a sore throat, coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, rashes and, in severe cases, breathing difficulties. Which symptoms you get can depend on the type of allergy you have and its severity[1].

There are lots of different substances that can cause allergic reactions. Some are food allergies, such as an intolerance to shellfish, nuts or eggs. You can be allergic to certain insects or animals – allergies to pet fur or bee stings are reasonably common examples. It’s also possible to be allergic to certain medicines, including antibiotics, which can make treating conditions difficult if you’re not aware of the allergy[1].

One of the most common allergies to have is an allergy to tree or grass pollen. Typically known as hay fever, this allergy is usually seasonal, becoming more noticeable in the summer months when pollen levels are higher. Hay fever is one allergy that can cause a sore throat, and a range of other symptoms. However, it’s important to note that different people can be allergic to different types of pollen. This means that you might show symptoms while your friend doesn’t – but that doesn’t mean that your friend doesn’t have hay fever[2].

What causes allergies?

The immune system works to protect you against pathogens like bacteria and viruses. It does this by creating specialised antibodies that attack those pathogens so that it can launch an assault on the infection without attacking your own cells. An allergic response occurs when your body starts to create antibodies which target non-threatening substances.

Once your immune system has identified a substance as a threat and made antibodies for it, you don’t usually stop being allergic to it. The best thing you can do to avoid an allergic reaction is to avoid the stimulus – what’s causing it – wherever possible. If you’re allergic to peanuts, for example, you should avoid eating peanuts. However, this isn’t always easy as sometimes you can’t avoid allergens[1].

If you can’t stay away from whatever is causing your allergies, you have two options. The first is to reduce the allergic response by taking anti-allergy medications such as steroids or antihistamines. It’s a good idea to consult a pharmacist first, as they can recommend which medications are best for you.

Alternatively, you can treat the symptoms of the allergic reaction. For example, if you have a sore throat, you can try a sore throat treatment such as Chloralieve’s Honey and Lemon Throat Lozenges. These lozenges contain lidocaine, a local anaesthetic which numbs the pain of a sore throat.

Can you develop allergies?

Some people develop their allergies in childhood when they are first exposed to a particular allergen. For example, you might discover you’re allergic to shellfish the first time you try crab on holiday. Others develop allergies later in life, sometimes after they’ve been exposed to that allergen plenty of times before. This can make people think that it’s not an allergy, since they’ve never had an allergic reaction to the substance before. However, it’s always worth considering allergies as a potential cause because it’s not uncommon to develop an allergy later in life[1].


[1] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/allergies/

[2] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hay-fever/