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Allergy is the most common chronic disease in Europe, and the UK has some of the highest prevalence rates of allergic conditions in the world. Roughly half of the population suffer from at least one allergy.

Allergies occur when your immune system overreacts to substances called allergens. Common allergens that can trigger allergic reactions include pollen, pet dander, and bee venom. People also have allergies to certain foods and medications.

Royal Brompton & Harefield Hospitals Specialist Care offers a wide range of allergy services for adults of all ages, including specialist services for patients with difficult-to-manage allergies including rhinitis (hay fever), anaphylaxis, asthma and food allergies.

Allergic rhinitis (hay fever)

People with hay fever have inflamed lining in their nose, which causes it to be blocked, running and itchy, and can cause sneezing. Many cases of rhinitis are due to an allergy such as grass pollen.

Patients who are referred with rhinitis may be required to take skin prick testing (an allergy test used to find what is causing the allergy), lung function testing, or an examination of the nose using an endoscope.

Allergic asthma

Asthma symptoms of wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest are caused by an allergic reaction to an allergen. Common allergens include dust mites, pets and pollen.

There are multiple tests available to diagnose asthma more accurately including lung function tests, histasmine provocation tests, or imaging test such as computerised tomography (CT) scan of the lungs.


Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that can be life threatening or fatal. The reaction happens quickly and usually involves difficulty in breathing, feeling light headed and can lead to collapse. Triggers for anaphylaxis may include food, drugs or stinging insects such as bees, wasps or hornets.

The first step for anyone who has had an anaphylactic reaction is to identify the triggers and seek to avoid them. Diagnosis may involve careful provocation testing in hospital, under medical supervision.

Food allergies

Adults who have a food allergy tend to react to shellfish, fruits, vegetables or nuts.

Most patients will be able to identify which foods are causing the problem themselves, however further testing may be needed. This may include a skin prick test or a specific blood test. Once the food allergy is identified patients will be given written information and advice on how to manage their allergy, and what medication to take if they have a reaction.

Did you know?

Asthma and allergic rhinitis are estimated to result in more than 100 million lost workdays and missed school days in Europe every year. Source: The European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI) Advocacy Manifesto, April 2016.


Dr Isabel Skypala

Consultant dietician