Making sense of allergies

Published: 4 June 2015

All our guides are date stamped and reflect the scientific findings and knowledge available at the time of publication.

Allergies are frustrating, restrictive and sometimes frightening conditions and they seem to be rising at an astonishing rate in developed countries. But there is concern that allergy has also become a catch-all diagnosis for unexplained symptoms, and this rise has been accompanied by a lot of non-medical diagnosis and treatment. This guide investigates ideas about the causes, diagnosis and treatment with a group of allergy specialists — bringing together their insights to help you make sense of it all.

Download Making Sense of Allergies pdf
The level of misinformation surrounding allergies is staggering. Most of my consultations include refuting firmly held beliefs that usually have no scientific foundation. It is a great step in the right direction that Making Sense of Allergies has been produced. I very much hope it will help to empower families to understand better what allergies are all about.

Michael Perkin

Consultant Paediatric Allergist on behalf of Cochrane UK

What allergies are (and aren’t) and the evidence for causes and treatments.

Did you Know?

There isn’t one test to diagnose all allergies. Accurate diagnosis requires both a test and a medical consultation.


This guide was developed in collaboration with the British Society for Immunology, Cochrane UK, Allergy Academy, Allergy UK, Asthma UK, Anaphylaxis Campaign and the British Society for Allergy & Clinical Immunology.

What’s the problem this guide is addressing?

Allergy is one of the most frequent subjects in newspapers, magazines and online forums.

There are 100 million allergy-related Google searches a year and hundreds of Facebook pages dedicated to the subject. But differing theories about allergy – some from medical research and some from lifestyle ‘gurus’ – have led to conflicting ideas about whether allergens should be avoided or homes are too hygienic. Shops, clinics and websites sell allergy tests that don’t work.

Allergies are difficult to diagnose and share their symptoms with many other conditions. According to practitioners, far more people think they have an allergy than actually do, which might be why people coping with dangerous allergies complain that waiters think they’re just fussy or nursery staff don’t take their child’s allergy seriously. Are the numbers being swelled by the ‘worried well’? Has allergy become a catch-all self-diagnosis that might be masking other problems or anxieties about modern life?


We launched Making Sense of Allergies at the Cheltenham Science Festival in June 2015. The guide was covered on the front pages of the Times and the Telegraph, with stories in in the Guardian the Daily Mail and the Mirror Online. The discussion continued with a Buzzfeed article and comment pieces in the Guardian, Telegraph and Daily Mail and blogs by contributors to the guide in the Conversation, IFL Science, the Independent and Mashable. The guide was also covered in the specialist press, as well as the Mail on Sunday and parenting blogs. International media outlets from France, the USA and New Zealand to BBC China also ran stories.

TV coverage included Sky News, Channel 4 Evening News, ITV’s Good Morning, while radio included the Nick Ferrari Show, LBC Radio, BBC radio 4’s Today programme, BBC London Radio and BBC radio 4’s You & Yours.

To engage with the questions and concerns real people have about allergies, we teamed up with Mumsnet, and the guide’s partner organisations, to host a popular Q&A session.

2,000 copies of the guide were requested from partners, doctor’s surgeries and public libraries. The guide infographics were also shared widely over social media; on Facebook alone we reached 42,000+ people.