Why do we get allergies?

Allergies are one of those nuisances that tend to have a pretty hefty impact on our day, and these instances are only increasing with changing seasons.

In fact, Australia and New Zealand have among the highest prevalence of allergic disorders in the developed world, according to ASCIA’s latest annual report. From this data, it is estimated roughly one in five Australians suffer from allergies; food or otherwise.

So why is it so widespread and how do we treat them?

Why they occur

Allergies occur when a person’s immune system reacts to substances in the environment that are usually harmless to others. These substances are known as allergens, and are generally found in dust mites, pets, pollen, insects, ticks, moulds, foods and some medicines.

People who are sensitive to allergies are said to be atopic—the tendency to develop allergic diseases. It is widely believed that to develop atopy there needs to be some exposure to allergens from young ages, but it is also contested that it is genetic or inherited.

People with atopy can develop what is known as the allergic triad, whereby they have all three conditions of eczema, hayfever and allergies present.

Prehabilitation and management

The concept of prehabilitation is commonly used when discussing sports, as something an athlete does to ‘prevent’ their risk of injury—such as prolonged stretching, warm-up or strengthening certain areas.

This concept of ‘prehabilitation’ can also be applied to the treatment of allergies, as there are a number of  ‘prevention’ techniques that can be used in these circumstances.

For example, a recommendation that often goes forgotten is for women is to wash their hair regularly—this reduces pollen, dust mites and animal hair from affecting nearby skin.

Management of symptoms also includes de-stressing, as research from the University of Mississippi has shown there is a direct link between increased cortisol levels and the increase of allergy sensitivities and reactions.


Nasal sprays and antihistamines are the most common way to combat the sniffles. Be sure use only as prescribed on the label.

Because allergies make the body’s immunity overactive, the concept of inhibiting histamines is the most widely sought-after way to treat them.

Histamine is a substance used by the body’s immune system when it believes it is under the threat of infection. It usually has an effect on blood vessels, causing them to swell and expand—otherwise known as inflammation. Histamine is often useful in the wider operation of the body, but with allergic reactions, too much is produced and antihistamines are used to manage this.

Myths about allergies

With so much information flooding the internet, knowing right from wrong is tricky business. Here are a few myths to consider:

  • Allergies are uncommon: As we now know, allergies affect nearly one in five Australians, meaning it is a widespread problem.
  • Allergies are harmless: Allergic rhinitis (hayfever) for example, can result in poor quality sleep, fatigue and daytime sleepiness. Adults can find it harder to think and function at work, suffer from greater absenteeism and have higher risk of work-related injuries.
  • Exposure to animals will cure your allergies: Continual exposure to pet fur may make your allergy worse, not better.
  • All allergies are curable: The closest thing to a cure is allergen immunotherapy (desensitisation), which can be effective for treating some conditions like allergic rhinitis (hay fever), asthma and stinging insect allergies. New treatments are currently being developed to treat food allergies.

Before starting any form of treatment, make sure you consult your regular GP for advice.