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What are common allergens?

The most common causes of allergic reactions in New Zealand are:

• dust mites
• pollen
• cats and other furry or hairy animals, such as dogs, horses, rabbits and guinea pigs
• food, such as peanuts, seafood, cow’s milk, egg and soy
• insect stings
• drugs
• mould
• latex

Airborne triggers are commonly dust mites, pollen, mould spores, and cat and dog allergens. Skin contact or inhalation of an airborne allergen can lead to symptoms of skin rash, swelling of the eyes, hay fever and asthma. Airborne allergens are not often a trigger for anaphylaxis.

Food allergens are most often ingested. Any type of food can trigger and allergic reaction. The majority of allergic reactions are triggered by egg, cow’s milk (dairy), peanuts, tree nuts (eg cashews, almond, Brazil nuts), soy, wheat, seeds, fish and shellfish.

• Egg and dairy are the most common triggers in infants.
• Peanuts, tree nuts and seafood are the most common triggers in older children, teenagers and adults.

Food may trigger reactions that range from localised contact reactions through to generalised reactions, including anaphylaxis.

Insect venom is an injected allergen from stinging insects such as bees and wasps. The venom from each of these insects is different, and being allergic to one doesn’t mean you will be allergic to others. Reactions range from local reactions, which can be large and last for a number of days, to immediate generalised reactions, including anaphylaxis. Because a sting punctures the skin, anaphylaxis can be rapid. 

Honey bees leave a venom sac behind. To avoid any further injection of honey bee venom, it’s recommended to flick this sac off immediately and not to pinch it to remove it.

Medication, including natural and herbal products, may trigger an allergic reaction. Antibiotics, usually penicillin, are the most commonly reported trigger. Medication may trigger an allergic reaction at any age.

Other triggers include allergy to latex in rubber products, and exercise can also be a cause of anaphylaxis.
It’s important to note that allergic reactions to food, insect venom and medication may be more severe in people who have asthma compared with those who don’t have asthma.