As spring dawns, are you kicking up your heels in delight, rushing out into the garden, gloves on and secateurs in hand? Or are you one of the millions of people who are instead, reaching for the tissues and the antihistamines, staring out longingly from behind closed windows due to hay fever? But it’s not just hay fever that is causing us problems. There are around 21 million people in the UK living with allergies to pollen, dust, food, animals and many more things. There are pollutants that can affect us in the atmosphere, our homes, work and leisure places. Even the people and animals we love can be a potential source of irritation and we’re not talking about what they say and do here, it could be their perfume, something they’ve touched or eaten, or the fur off the pets they own.
With 1 in 3 of us in the UK suffering from an allergy, we have one of the highest rates of allergy-affected people in the world. According to Allergy UK, the number of us suffering from allergies is on the rise. Half of the people who suffer from allergies have more than one allergy. Allergies are the most common health condition in the whole of Europe.
What are allergies?
In people who suffer from allergies, their immune system mistakes a substance that is usually harmless to most people, such as pollen or food, for something that is dangerous and starts to attack it. The normally harmless substances are then called allergens. When these allergens enter the body either through the nose, eyes, mouth or skin, they trigger a hypersensitivity reaction which can lead to different symptoms depending on the type of allergy, but can include itchiness, sneezing, redness, weepy eyes, dry throat, headaches, shortness of breath, or in the case of a severe reaction, anaphylaxis and even death.
Allergy Awareness Week
Monday 26th – 30th April 2021 is Allergy Awareness Week. It is run by the charity, Allergy UK, who aim to help organisations and people who live with allergies, by providing them with information and help about allergies and raise awareness of the issues that allergy sufferers face. This year, they have partnered with Kleenex® to “help the 13 million people in the UK suffering with hay fever live more comfortably – by sharing simple, easily accessible advice on how to help manage symptoms and make the most out of the summer.”
But it’s not just about hay fever as we’ve learnt. There are many factsheets available on their website including information about:
- Hay fever (allergic rhinitis)
- Asthma and respiratory allergy
- Food allergy
- Anaphylaxis and severe allergy
- Childhood food allergy
- Eczema and dermatitis
- Peanut allergy
- Urticaria (hives) and other skin allergies
- Drug allergies
And these are just the tip of the iceberg! Allergens are everywhere; at home, outside and in our settings. There are many myths about allergies too. A lot of people wrongly believe that if hay fever sufferers just stay indoors, for example, they will be fine, but this is far from the case. Pollen can enter indoor spaces through windows, doors, vents and on clothing and pets and the pollen count is often highest in the early morning and at dusk. There is a fun and interactive ‘Allergy House’ on the website which you can use to teach the little ones about things in the house that might cause allergies for people and about where allergens can lurk.
Dealing with allergies in your settings
Information is key
It is important that you know if any of your children, staff or volunteers suffer from allergies and whether these are mild, serious or potentially life-threatening, so you need to make sure that your data collection protocols are robust and that once collected, the information is passed on to the people who need to know. It is no good being proud that you and your office staff are aware of allergies, if the key person and the catering staff do not!
Ensure your policies are effective in relation to allergies
If you have people who suffer from allergies, then you will need effective health and safety policies in place to cover the administration of any medications needed both as prophylaxis and as first aid. If a person’s allergy is severe, they may need an epi-pen or equivalent in case of anaphylaxis. Many older people can administer these themselves, but obviously younger children cannot, and your staff need to be aware of how to treat this if it happens, so will need regular and up-to-date first aid training.
Most settings also ban a lot of potentially dangerous foods such as nuts because of the risks to sufferers with severe allergies if they come into contact with certain foods. And again, making sure everyone knows, and are reminded regularly, needs to be something that is done routinely. If you have events or opportunities for children to associate with animals, ensure that you have done your due diligence regarding allergies first.
Keep a clean space
Obviously, you will be keeping your settings and rooms hygienic and clean as a matter of course, and with the advent of coronavirus, we have all become much more aware of potential ‘nasties’ in our spaces. However, many people who suffer with eczema or dermatitis have reported their conditions getting worse due to the increased hand-washing and use of harsh, antibacterial hand gels, so you may want to be sensitive to this too.
Make learning about allergies fun!
As with all things, no one wants to be the outsider, so helping children to understand why some children can’t have certain things is important, and you need to do so in a way that doesn’t make the child feel excluded or isolated. Why not hold an ‘allergen-hunt’ during the week to identify potential allergens around the setting? – cut out images of possible allergens and hide them, asking the children to find them. When they do, you can teach them how to reduce the risk from that allergy – e.g. if they find a dust mite image (make it look friendly), you can tell them that keeping houses and workspaces clean will help.
You can also find further support on the Allergy UK helpline on 01322 619898.