Allergy affects almost 50% of children in the UK. It is the most common and growing chronic childhood disorder. Eight per cent of children now have diagnosed food allergy, causing them and their parents to live on constant alert.
Allergy is an abnormal reaction of the immune system to innocuous substances (allergens) that cause asthma, rhinitis, eczema, urticaria, angioedema, food allergy and eosinophilic gut disorders. These conditions can fluctuate throughout life, causing discomfort, pain, stress and depression to the sufferer and have a detrimental effect on family, school, work and life.
The financial cost to the NHS is enormous, with £900m spent annually on allergies in primary care and £68m on allergy-related hospital admissions, many of which are preventable. The National Report on Asthma Deaths 2014 showed that more than half of these patients had never had their (allergy) triggers recorded.
Many with severe or difficult to control asthma are severely allergic to house dust mites, pollens, animal allergens or mould spores, yet have never had an allergy assessment. The majority also have allergic rhinitis, either seasonally (hayfever) or perennially. An exacerbation of rhinitis can cause asthma attacks that can kill.
The nose is the first part of the respiratory tract, yet few asthmatics have their noses examined, or are questioned about nasal symptoms.
People with persistent or severe atopic eczema rarely are assessed for allergy yet have the most miserable lives, living with interminable irritation and sore, cracked, bleeding and often infected skin that seems impossible to sooth. It takes hours daily to apply treatments properly.
Immunology has been officially recognised in the UK only in recent years. Despite producing excellent allergy research, the UK still has only six tertiary allergy centres.
Increasing allergy knowledge and recognition in primary care by redistributing NHS funding would halt the widespread progression to severe and multi-organ allergic disease, saving money at the severe end of the disease spectrum.
Maureen Jenkins, clinical services director at Allergy UK