Australia has one of the highest allergy rates in the developed world. It is estimated that 20 percent of the population have at least one allergic disease. Almost 80 percent of victims are of working age. Australians have been accused of overlooking the social and economic impact of allergies. Some are responding by advocating earlier recognition of and treatment for allergies.
Here is a rundown of the Top Six Australian allergies:
1. Hay Fever: Allergic rhinitis is an inflammation of the nasal passages. It can be triggered by dust, pollen or animal dander. Ironically, hay fever involves neither hay nor fever. It triggers the production of antibodies containing histamines. That’s why anti-histamines are often prescribed for this allergy. Symptoms include sneezing, watery itchy eyes, nasal swelling and increased mucus production. Severe cases can cause rashes and hives. Two in five Australian adults suffer hay fever; occurrences among children are lower.
2. Asthma: This is a chronic inflammation of the air passages, causing wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and coughing. The root causes are thought to be both genetic and environmental. About ten percent of adults and 20 percent of children suffer from asthma in Australia. Short-term treatments are administered by inhalants containing a beta-2 agonist. Prevention requires avoidance of allergens and administering corticosteroids.
3. Eczema: A form of dermatitis characterized by swelling, redness, itching, crusting, oozing, cracking, blistering, flaking or bleeding. Some people suggest the condition arises by living conditions that are too clean – the body needs exposure early on to bacteria and germs to develop a proper immune system. About seven percent of Australian adults have eczema. The numbers are higher for children.
4. Stinging Insects: Almost three percent of Australians have had allergic reactions to bee stings. Wasp stings are less prevalent, except for residents of Tasmania, who have been bedeviled by the jack jumper ant. There are occasional anaphylaxis-related deaths due to bee and wasp stings.
5. Food: Common foods that are associated with allergies include shrimp, peanuts, eggs, sesame seeds and cow’s milk. One common symptom isanaphylaxis, which is estimated at one new case in Australia every year per 5,000 people. Unless epinephrine is administered promptly, severe cases can result in death.
6. Drugs: Ten percent of asthma sufferers are allergic to aspirin. Reactions to vaccines and X-ray contrast injections are rare. When Australian general practice physicians were polled, they reported about ten percent of patients had suffered from adverse drug reactions in the past six months, and ten percent of these cases were considered allergies.