Mate pāwera Allergies

An allergy is when your body overreacts to a substance (an allergen) in your environment. Common allergens include pollen, insect bites, some foods and medicines. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. Severe reactions are called anaphylaxis and are life threatening.

Causes of allergies

An allergy starts when you have been in contact with an allergen. This will cause you to have an allergic reaction.Some common allergens include: 

  • chemicals
  • pollen
  • house dust mite droppings
  • skin, scales, or fur from animals or pets (dander)
  • insect bites and stings
  • metals or latex
  • foods such as peanuts, dairy, eggs, and seafood — these are not common. 

Allergies cannot be passed down in families, but you may be more likely to have an allergy if someone in your family does. 

Cigarette smoke can make an allergy worse, but is not an allergen itself.

Symptoms of allergies

You will have a different allergic reaction depending on what type of allergen you are in contact with. These can include:

  • hay fever (allergic rhinitis) — caused when you inhale pollen
  • skin rashes (allergic contact dermatitis) — caused when your skin comes into contact with an allergen
  • conjunctivitis 
  • asthma
  • reactions to certain foods.


This is a severe life threatening reaction that is a medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention.

Any of these symptoms can be a sign of anaphylaxis.

  • Difficulty with or noisy breathing.
  • Swelling of the tongue.
  • Swelling or tightness in the throat.
  • Wheezing or persistent cough.
  • Difficulty talking or hoarse voice.
  • Persistent dizziness, loss of consciousness or collapse.
  • Becoming pale and floppy (in young children).
  • Abdominal pain and vomiting which are signs of anaphylaxis for an insect allergy.

If you or someone close to you has symptoms of anaphylaxis give adrenaline if available and call 111 for an ambulance

Anaphylaxis Allergy NZ  (external link)

Diagnosing allergies

If you think you, or your tamaiti (child), have an allergy, it is important to speak to your healthcare provider. Some symptoms of allergies may be due to other conditions. 

Your healthcare provider will ask you about your symptoms, known triggers, and if you have been exposed to new triggers like food, medicine, or pets. 

It can be easy to identify an allergen if you react soon after you have been exposed. If the cause is not known, you may need more tests. This can include a skin test or blood test. 

Allergy testing — HealthInfo (external link)

Self care for allergies

The best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid the allergen that causes them.

Things you can do to avoid allergic reactions include:

  • regular cleaning and improved ventilation (dust mites)
  • avoid certain plants and stay indoors when pollen is high (hay fever)
  • keep pets outside if possible (animal dander)
  • avoid strong soaps, perfumes, and chemicals (skin)
  • wear shoes, long pants and shirts, and use insect repellent (insect bites and stings)
  • always carry an EpiPen if you or your tamaiti are at risk of anaphylaxis
  • carry an allergic reaction plan so people know what to do if you have a reaction, such as anaphylaxis
  • wear a medical bracelet or necklace that says what you are allergic to
  • remind your healthcare provider or pharmacist of any allergies before you take any new medicines (prescribed, over the counter, and herbal).

Treating allergies

Depending on the type of allergy, you may need:

  • medicines to stop a hay fever reaction (antihistamine)
  • steroid tablets to reduce inflammation
  • steroid nasal sprays or decongestants to relieve a blocked nose or sinuses
  • eye drops (medicated or non-medicated) to relieve redness, itching, or watery eyes
  • creams (moisturising or corticosteroid) to relieve dry, itchy, or flaky skin
  • adrenaline (usually an EpiPen).

Allergies to medicines

Medications (drugs) and complementary or alternative remedies can cause allergies though true drug allergies are rare. 

Symptoms can include:

  • itchy rashes (hives) and swelling (angioedema)
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea.

However these same symptoms can be a side effect of the medication rather than an allergic reaction . Also they can be caused by the condition being treated,

Medicines can also cause severe reactions (anaphylaxis) needing urgent medical attention.

If a medicine allergy is confirmed you will need to avoid it. The allergy should be recorded in your medical records including in hospital, G.P. and dental records. You may be recommended to wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace.

Allergies to medications (drugs) (external link)

Allergy New Zealand

Information, education, and support to New Zealanders living with allergies, including those at risk of anaphylaxis.


Information about allergies in tamariki (children).

Clinical review

This content was written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. It has been adapted for Health Information and Services.

Clinical advisers — HealthInfo (external link)

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