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What are Allergies

An allergy is when our body’s immune system doesn’t function as it should. It reacts to harmless substances from the environment such as house dust, pollen, or protein in foods. The body forms antibodies to the “foreign substances” (antigens). When contact with the allergen occurs again, it releases substances which trigger an allergic reaction, such as a rash, itching, gastrointestinal complaints or shortness of breath. Every third German is affected.

Allergies: when the immune defences go haywire

The top allergens are

pollen (hay fever), house dust and animal hair – these are the allergens to which most peoples’ allergic reaction is cold-like symptoms. Allergic reactions to certain foods can also be especially dramatic. Around 2.5% of all adults suffer from an allergy of this sort. In adults, top of the hit list of food allergens is fruit, which is the culprit in approximately 35% of all cases. With 23%, nuts, including peanuts, represent the second most frequent cause of food allergies, followed by spices, fish and seafood. Also read our article for more information on this topic entitled “Help with Food Allergies”. Many pollen allergens are closely related to allergens in foods. This is why people allergic to birch pollen, for example, often cannot tolerate apples. The following table summarises the most important of the so-called cross-reactions.


Main blossoming period

Cross-reactions with foods, such as

tree pollen (birch, hazelnut, alder) February – May Stone fruit and pome fruit such as apples, peaches, cherries, plums, apricots; nuts such as hazel nuts, walnuts and almonds; vegetables such as celery (raw), carrots (raw), potatoes (raw; even upon contact),
Grass and grain pollen June – July Grains such as wheat, rye, barley, pulses, especially soya, peanuts
Herb pollen (mugwort and others) August – September Herbs and spices such as mugwort, chamomile, aniseed, caraway, peppers and vegetables such as celery (cooked also)

Allergies: when the immune defences go haywire

Recognising the allergy

It is not always easy to identify what is triggering an allergy. In most cases the diagnosis involves intensive self-monitoring. Get advice from specially trained doctors (allergists) and nutritional experts trained in allergies. Experts recommend the following step-by-step procedure for diagnosis:

  • medical history – a detailed discussion with an allergist regarding your medical history
  • skin and blood tests – checking suspicions with the help of small samples of suspect dust, animal hair and food samples. The body reacts with wheals on the skin or the formation of antibodies in the blood.
  • Exclusion diet and provocation – confirming suspicions by avoiding allergens and then specific administration to trigger an allergy, always under medical supervision

It is helpful to bring a food diary to the first meeting. This is where you have recorded what you have eaten for a month. Also keep a note of which symptoms occur and which areas of the body are affected. Tip: a pre-printed form is available from Deutsche Allergie- und Asthmabund e.V., Fliethstraße 114, 41061 Mönchengladbach. Allergies: when the immune defences go haywire

Living with an allergy

Avoid your specific allergen – you’ll feel much better for it. Our table can help you with this. For people allergic to types of food, allergens in processed foods are not always easy to recognise straight away. For instance, chicken and milk proteins are often used as binding agents and emulsifiers, for example in soups, sauces, ice cream, puddings, pasta and pastries. In future, new food labelling regulations will make the lives of allergy sufferers easier: wheat containing gluten, shellfish, eggs, fish, peanuts, soya milk, nuts, sesame seeds and celery will also have to be listed in the ingredients.


Tips and help

House dust mites Replace carpets, mattresses, duvets and pillows with products suitable for allergy sufferers. A vacuum cleaner with a mite filter is a good idea.
Animal hair Avoid coming into contact with the type of animal in question. Wash your hands, hair and clothing after any accidental contact with animals.
Hay fever Take advantage of the pollen forecasts from the German Weather Service [Markets, please localise or remove this reference], tel. 0190/11 54 80.
Nuts Reactions to nuts are usually particularly dramatic. take particular care to avoid the allergen and always carry with you a kit for emergencies (containing the medications cortisone, antihistamine, a preparation containing adrenalin) that has been prescribed by your doctor. Let your doctor show you how to use the kit.
Fruit The type of fruit is rarely tolerated raw and unpeeled. After consulting with your doctor, however, you can try the fruit, an apple for example, cooked or peeled. Occasionally, choosing a variety low in allergens may help, such as Boskoop, Jamba or Gloster.