Posts tagged Allergies

Insect bites and stings on the rise

Posted 8 July 2018 in Allergies, Men's Health, Womens health

A biting mosquito - picture from medicalimages.comThe current heatwave in the UK has provided perfect conditions for a wide range of biting and stinging insects to thrive – and this has been demonstrated by the huge increase in medical help being sought for insect bites and their complications. Twice the usual number of calls to NHS Direct (111) have been made recently regarding this issue, and there has been a spike in hospital admissions to treat infected bites, particularly horsefly bites. (1)

In light of this news, this blog explores some of the most common insect bites and stings in the UK, highlighting what to look out for and how to manage them.

Horseflies are common in the UK, and as the name suggests they do bite horses, but also other mammals including humans. If you’ve been bitten by a horsefly you’ll know about it! That’s because not only do horseflies tend to ‘hone in’ on their targets by buzzing round them before finally finding a place on their body to land and bite, but their razor sharp mouthparts dig in to the skin, tearing rather than piercing it to extract as much blood as possible. This will be particularly painful and leave a nasty looking raised red bite which takes longer to heal than most other insect bites. Because of this, the bite can become infected. Look out for pus appearing in or from the bite, worsening pain, fever, or redness and swelling spreading from the bite to the surrounding areas – see your GP if you notice any of these symptoms as you may need treatment with antibiotics. (1, 2)

Mosquitoes are also abundant and particularly favour areas with standing water, such as those near lakes and ponds, but they can be found in other areas too. Generally, people do not realise they have been bitten by a mosquito until a rash develops, as their bite is painless. The bites appear as small red lumps which may contain fluid-filled sacs and can be intensely itchy. (1, 2)

Bees tend to keep themselves to themselves as they travel between flowers collecting pollen. They will usually only sting if they feel threatened. A sharp, piercing pain is felt and a small red mark may be left which often contains the bee sting. It is important that the sting is removed as soon as possible as it is venomous. Scrape the sting out using an object with a thin, hard edge, such as a bank card, or your fingernail. Do this in a sideways motion to draw the sting out of the wound. Don’t try to pluck or squeeze it out as this may release more venom into the surrounding tissue. (2, 3)

Wasps and hornets can be more bothersome, attacking people who are just keeping themselves to themselves! Also, they may sting more than once at a time. The sensation will be similar to a bee sting, but there is no sting left in the wound. Within hours, a red, painful and itchy lump can form around the sting wound, and in some cases the irritation and swelling can cover a considerable area for up to a week as part of a mild allergic reaction. (2)

Bee, wasp or hornet stings can occasionally cause serious allergic reactions (anaphylaxis). If you or someone around you begins to struggle breathing, experiences severe swelling on the face (mainly around the eyes and lips), or dizziness after being stung, call 999 immediately. (2)

Ticks are tiny spider-like creatures which can leave a small red, itchy bite and sometimes a blistered or bruised surrounding area. The bite doesn’t tend to cause any pain, so you may not notice you’ve been bitten. In the UK, ticks are generally harmless unless they carry Lyme disease (covered in more detail in an earlier blog), in which case a characteristic ‘bullseye’ rash may develop. See your GP if this happens.

To ease itching, apply calamine lotion or crotamiton cream to the bites or stings. You can also purchase hydrocortisone cream and antihistamines such as chlorphenamine or loratadine over the counter. Painkillers such as paracetamol can be taken to ease pain associated with stings or bites. Applying a cold compress to the affected area can help to reduce swelling. (3)

Continual scratching of the stung or bitten area can break the skin, which makes infection more likely. Signs of infection include pus or yellow crusting, spreading of the red and swollen area, worsening pain and fever. Don’t hesitate to contact your GP if this develops as you may need antibiotics to clear the infection.

If you’ve been stung or bitten in a sensitive area, such as inside the mouth or near the eyes, or if you experience worsening symptoms or see no improvement after a few days, see your GP or call NHS 111. (3)

References

  1. Ives L (2018).Heatwave causes spike in insect bite calls to NHS [cited 18 July 2018]. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-44823286

  2. NHS Choices. Insect bites and stings – Symptoms [cited 18 July 2018]. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/insect-bites-and-stings/symptoms

  3. NHS Choices. Insect bites and stings – Treatment [cited 18 July 2018]. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/insect-bites-and-stings/treatment

    Author: Gabby Gallagher MPharm

    Medically reviewed by: Superintendent pharmacist Margaret Hudson BSc(Hons)MRPharmS 08/07/18

Is hay fever running your life?

Posted 13 June 2018 in Allergies, Men's Health, Womens health

Illustration of a sneezing manWe’re well into hay fever season which, for a fifth of the UK population, means relentless cold-like symptoms, headaches and general exhaustion. If this sounds all too familiar, it’s the perfect time to review the steps you can take to help reduce the intensity of your symptoms and make your day to day life easier! (1)

What is hay fever?

Hay fever, also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, is a condition caused by the immune system’s reaction to pollen. Pollen is a fine powder produced by plants for the purpose of reproduction, and is easily carried by the air and therefore breathed in and deposited on hair, skin and clothes. (1)

Symptoms include sneezing, coughing, nasal congestion and running, reduced sense of smell, itching of the eyes, nose, throat and ears, headache and temple pain, earache and a lack of energy. Hay fever may also worsen asthma symptoms. (2)

Symptoms tend to be present for the whole hay fever season (March to September), particularly when the pollen count is high. This usually happens on hot and humid days with a breeze or wind. (2)

How is hay fever treated?

Antihistamines are the most common medical treatment for hay fever symptoms and can be purchased over the counter in pharmacies. They work by antagonising the effects of histamine, a chemical produced by the immune system in response to allergens. This will help with all symptoms. Over-the-counter antihistamines include chlorphenamine, acrivastine, cetirizine and loratadine and are available as tablets and oral solution. Chlorphenamine is a ‘drowsy’ antihistamine, so is useful for people who have trouble sleeping due to their symptoms, whereas acrivastine, cetirizine and loratadine are considered ‘non-drowsy’ and may be more suitable for daytime use, driving, working, school and exam time.

Other treatments that can be bought over the counter include steroid nasal sprays (beclometasone or fluticasone), decongestant nasal sprays (xylometazoline), and saline nasal sprays, which can help with stubborn congestion not relieved by antihistamines, and sodium cromoglicate eye drops to help specifically with itchy eyes.

If your symptoms still persist after trying medicines from the pharmacy, your GP can help. Other antihistamines unavailable over the counter, such as fexofenadine, can be prescribed, as can a wider range of stronger steroids in tablet or nasal spray form.

If this also fails, your GP may consider referring you to a specialist for immunotherapy treatment. This involves administering injections of low doses of pollen at regular intervals, usually starting around December time, to gradually build your immunity to pollen. Once hay fever season comes around, your body should have had enough exposure to no longer treat pollen as an allergen, therefore symptoms should not develop. Unfortunately, this is not a cure - you’ll need to have this done every year. (2)

What else can I do to help ease my hay fever symptoms?

Try to avoid going outside whenever possible, and particularly early in the morning and late in the afternoon/early evening. This is when pollen counts are highest. Also, avoid opening windows and doors in the house, and don’t allow outdoor pets in if possible. Vacuum daily if you can - consider investing in a vacuum incorporating a HEPA filter - and dust surfaces each day with a damp cloth. And although it seems obvious, don’t bring flowers into your house. (1, 2)

If you must go outside, create as many barriers as you can between you and the pollen! Protect your eyes with wraparound sunglasses, protect your airways by applying petroleum jelly around your nostrils, and stop pollen from getting into your car by attaching pollen filters to the air vents. Washing clothes, showering or bathing and washing hair after going outside will wash away any pollen stuck to you or your clothes. And don’t proceed to dry your clothes on the line - they’ll only become covered in pollen again! (2)

Stick to paths and pavements where possible, as walking on grass can release pollen into the air. Cutting grass also has this effect, so let someone else mow the lawn! (2)

Smoking and breathing in other people’s smoke can worsen hay fever symptoms, so avoid this at all costs. (2)

Click here for further information and support from Allergy UK.

References

  1. BBC News. Tips for reducing hay fever symptoms [cited 12 June 2018]. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-44381799
  2. NHS Choices. Hay fever [cited 12 June 2018]. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hay-fever/

Author: Gabby Gallagher MPharm

Medically reviewed by: Superintendent pharmacist Margaret Hudson BSc(Hons)MRPharmS 13/06/18


Why lactose free?

Posted 19 August 2015 in Allergies

Many people are lactose intolerant which is a common digestive problem where the body is unable to digest lactose, a type of sugar found in milk and, to a lesser extent, in dairy products. Lactose is digested by lactase and can then be absorbed and utilised by the body. If you are lactose intolerant you do not produce enough lactase and therefore the lactose stays in the gut where it is fermented by gut bacteria and produces various gases that lead to diarrhoea, flatulence, stomach cramps, nausea and bloating.

An allergy to lactose is far more serious as it involves the immune system and can result in wheezing or coughing, runny nose, watery eyes, an itchy skin rash or vomiting.

This means that people affected either have to limit the amount of lactose ingested or avoid it completely. Lactase substitutes, in the form of tablets or drops, can be obtained to take with your meals or drinks, to improve your digestion of lactose but it’s better to avoid it. Lactose intolerance varies greatly between different ethnic groups. For example, while only one in 50 people of northern European descent are thought to be lactose intolerant, most people of Chinese descent have the condition. In fact, hereditary or primary lactase deficiency affects 60% of the world’s adult population. The condition can develop at any time and many cases first occur between 20 and 40 years of age.

Unfortunately, many pharmaceutical tablets and capsules contain lactose as a “filler” or “binder”. Fillers are used to bulk out the active ingredient or the drug used in a particular medication as the amount of active drug in a tablet or capsule is very small. Therefore, to make the drug a more manageable size to handle, the pharmacologically inactive fillers are used to bulk out the tablet and increase its size.

However, this practise makes the medication unsuitable for those who are either allergic to lactose or lactose intolerant. There are other fillers that can be used by the pharmaceutical industry that do not cause any problems.

For this reason, the generic sildenafil treatment for erectile dysfunction that we supply from Webmed Pharmacy is lactose free.

Medically reviewed by: Super intendent pharmacist Margaret Hudson BSc(Hons)MRPharmS 19/08/15

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