Sneezing, sore eyes, runny nose, a tight throat, itchy skin…being allergic to something really is no fun at all and as UK Allergy Awareness week comes to an end, we take a look at allergies and how hormones may affect them.

What exactly is an allergy?

Allergies are really common ­– one in four people in the UK suffer from one – and they can present themselves in a few different, distinct ways. There’s dermatitis, hay fever, allergic rhinitis, asthma, hay fever, and life-threatening anaphylaxis.

So what causes an allergy?

Allergies occur when the body's immune system overreacts to something as though it's harmful. You might blame pollen or your best mate’s cat but in fact your immune system is the cause. When the immune system suspects an invader, it then produces antibodies that remain on the alert for that particular allergen. When you're exposed to the allergen again, these antibodies can release a number of immune system chemicals, such as histamine, that cause allergy symptoms.

Periods – can they affect allergies?

In a word, yes. The body’s hormonal system and immune system are linked using many of the same chemical messengers, so changes in hormone levels can affect the rest of the system. The means that anything that alters the balance of hormones in the body will impact the immune system ­– having an impact on your allergy and possibly making the symptoms worse. Who knew?

“Hormone levels fluctuate at different times for example adolescence, menstruation, pregnancy and the menopause.  Hormone regulation can have a significant impact on both the incidence of allergies and the severity of allergy,” says Holly Shaw from Allergy UK.