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What is an allergy?
An allergy is caused by the body's reaction to a substance that is recognises as 'foreign'. This foreign substance is called an allergen (antigen), or allergenic substance, and the type and extent of the allergic response mounted by the body depends on many factors such as the degree of previous exposure to the allergen, the severity of previous reactions and the amount of allergen exposed to the body at any one time.

Common allergens include:

The effects of exposure to allergens can be very varied. Typical reactions include:

Not all allergies result in someone having all of the above reactions. A sudden exposure to a high level of allergen, or exposure of even small levels of allergen in a very sensitive person, can trigger a massive allergic response. Where many of the above reactions occur together, the situation can be life-threatening and is termed anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis can kill very rapidly.

If a massive allergic reaction has been triggered, prompt treatment is vital to stop the reaction. Without treatment, anaphylaxis can result in death.

Some people know if they suffer from anaphylaxis, but in rare cases an anaphylactic reaction can be triggered in someone who has previously never had such a reaction. Known anaphylaxis sufferers often wear Medic-Alert bracelets or medallions to warn others.

Allergic reactions are calmed by the release of adrenaline, also known as epinephrine. Many anaphylaxis sufferers also carry auto-injectors of adrenaline in case of an emergency. Auto-injectors inject a fixed dose of adrenaline into the thigh muscle. There are two types available; EpiPen® and Jext®.  

Practical tips for Leaders

With an anaphylaxis sufferer:

Further information

Allergy UK

Helpline: 01322 619 989

Email: info@allergyuk.org

Website: www.allergyuk.org

Action Against Allergy

Telephone: 020 8892 2711

Email: aaa@actionagainstallergy.freeserve.co.uk

Website: www.actionagainstallergy.co.uk

The Anaphylaxis Campaign

Telephone: 01252 373 793

Helpline: 01252 542 029

Email: info@anaphylaxis.org.uk

Website: www.anaphylaxis.org.uk
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