Photo of an allergy rash called “urticaria”. © Dr Preest.

Generally the symptoms of allergies, whilst unpleasant, are not serious and don’t cause too much cause for concern. However, some allergic reactions can be serious and develop rapidly, requiring urgent medical attention.

More common symptoms include:

  • Sneezing and an itchy, runny or blocked nose
  • Itchy, red, watering eyes
  • Wheezing, chest tightness, or a cough
  • A raised, itchy, red rash called “urticaria” (see below)
  • Swollen lips, tongue or face (beware, because these can be harbingers of more severe reactions)
  • Dry, red and cracked skin


As mentioned above, in very rare cases an allergy can be more serious and lead to anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock, which can be life-threatening.

This affects the whole body and usually develops within minutes of exposure. Symptoms include:

  • Swelling of the throat and mouth
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lightheadedness
  • Confusion
  • Collapsing and losing consciousness

  IMPORTANT: Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. If the above symptoms are present, you should dial 999 for an immediate ambulance response. Click here for important information on what to do.


Patients often ask about whether it’s possible to be tested “for an allergy”. The aim of the tests is to find out whether there is a specific agent that triggers an allergy response. In some instances this can be done by a “RAST” blood test. Some patients may be referred for “patch testing” but not all patients are suitable for this.

You can read more about allergy testing and patch testing here:


In many cases it is not possible to identify the causative factor, but if you know what is causing the allergy, then the following advice may help:

You can:

  • Avoid contact with allergens where possible. For example, groom your pets outside, hoover your mattress weekly
  • Ask for accurate information if you have an allergy to certain foods. For example, don’t rely on menus for ingredients alone, ask the Chef to confirm
  • Take antihistamines at times where you know you may have a reaction
  • Patients who experience severe symptoms may need to carry a special “Epi-pen” adrenaline shot (and be trained how to use it)

Read more here.