Health Fact vs Fiction - Why am I allergic?

Allergies, or allergic reactions, are now the most common chronic group of diseases in Europe. Surprising to some perhaps, but a little more understandable when considering they encompass everything from eczema, to asthma, hay fever and food allergies.

As Helen tells Anna, the irony surrounding allergies is it’s actually our own immune system initiating our adverse reaction to something. It essentially decides that anything from peanuts to pollen are unwanted guests, and releases histamine to "fight" them - causing the immediately recognisable hives and swelling to appear as a result. It’s not the food’s fault after all!

Episode 14 - Why am I allergic?

In episode 14 of the Health Fact vs Fiction podcast, presenter Anna Richardson talks about allergies with Dr Helen Brough from HCA Healthcare UK's The Portland Hospital.

Listen now to Why am I allergic?
Apple Podcasts
Google Podcasts

Listen now

Things we learn in this allergy episode

It’s the most common chronic disease in Europe. One in four of us here in the UK will have to deal with an allergy at some point in our lives. And, as we find out in this episode, it’s all down to your immune system making a mistake and attacking harmless proteins or pollen. Presenter Anna Richardson talks eczema, asthma, hay fever and food allergies with Dr Helen Brough from HCA Healthcare UK’s The Portland Hospital.

Allergic reaction Fact

An allergic reaction is your immune system making a mistake. Helen explains that an allergy is the body treating a harmless protein like peanut or pollen as an invading pathogen. By doing this, it releases histamine to fight the protein, and this causes hives and swelling. 

Peanut allergy Fact

The rate of death due to anaphylaxis related to a peanut allergy is very low. In fact, Helen tells us that, statistically, only two in a million people die from a peanut allergy per year.

Hayfever Fiction

Hayfever is a fever caused by hay. Helen says the name dates back to the 1800s when symptoms of a runny nose and itchy eyes emerged during the hay harvesting season. It is of course pollen in the air, not hay, which causes the allergic response, and hay fever seldom causes a fever.

Allergy Fiction

Allergies are not genetic. In fact, Helen tells Anna that if one of your parents has an allergy, then you are 30-50 per cent more likely to have an allergy yourself. If both parents have an allergy, then you have a 60-80 per cent risk of having allergies yourself. 

Childhood allergy Fact

Giving your child peanuts from a young age can help prevent them from developing peanut allergy. Helen talks to Anna about her research into childhood allergies which suggests that oral exposure to peanuts from a young age can actually decrease allergy risk. Whereas exposure through the skin to peanut can increase the risk of peanut allergy. It's important to note in children under five years of age, nuts should be ground up and mixed with other foods and not eaten as whole nuts - due to risk of choking.

What to do next?

Dr Helen Brough

Dr Helen Brough is a consultant paediatric allergist at The Portland Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK and the head of service for the children’s allergy service at the Evelina London Children’s Hospital.  This is the largest children’s allergy service in the UK and one of the largest in Europe.  In her NHS service, Helen runs general allergy clinics and leads the joint specialist allergy and respiratory service.  Helen's clinical and research interests are in food allergy prevention, diagnosis and treatment, immunotherapy, asthma, eosinophilic gastrointestinal disorders and eczema.  She has recently been elected as chair for the paediatric section for the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Helen graduated from King’s College, Cambridge University, with double honours in medicine and experimental psychology, before completing her clinical training at the Royal Free and University College London Medical School.  She was then awarded one of the few recognised UK higher specialist training posts in paediatric allergy and immunology and trained in some of the UK’s leading teaching hospitals: Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospital, King’s College Hospital, and Great Ormond Street Hospital.  During her training, Helen completed an MSc in allergy, gaining a distinction at the University of Southampton.  She was subsequently awarded a PhD in determining routes of developing peanut allergy, at King's College London University. 

Helen is the lead author for the paediatric textbook Rapid Paediatrics and Child Health and has written chapters for paediatric allergy books.  She has published original research and reviews on how children become allergic to food, effective ways to prevent food allergies, and novel and more accurate ways to diagnose food allergy.  She has received an award for paediatric allergy research from the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology in 2013. 

Helen also works closely with local communities to raise awareness of allergies. Helen has set up an educational programme for general practitioners as part of the community-based children’s allergy services and also runs community children’s allergy services, and allergy transition services for teenagers.

Contact us

If our podcast topics have inspired you to seek further advice, our team will be happy to make an appointment for you with a consultant. 

Call us on

020 7079 4344
back to top