Health Articles


Is It Allergy? 

Stomach pain, cough, runny nose, itchy rash. Did you know that allergy can be a cause of these?

Is It Allergy?  

Stomach pain, cough, runny nose, itchy rash. Did you know that allergy can be a cause of these?  

The Straits Times reported in 2013 that a study found that one in three people in Singapore suffer from nasal allergy symptoms. 

Typical Symptoms of Allergy: 

  • Blocked or runny nose 
  • Itchy, red eyes 
  • Sneezing 
  • Wheezing 
  • Dry, itchy skin 
  • Coughing 
  • Diarrhoea 
  • Stomach pain 
  • Recurrent ear infections 
  • Breathing difficulties  

Common allergens in Singapore include:  

Dust mites: 

The Straits Times reported that one in five children and 5 per cent of adults in Singapore suffer from asthma, and about 85 per cent of these asthmatic patients have an allergy to dust mites. 


This is the most common food-related allergy in Singapore1 with large amounts of seafood being eaten. It is also the most common cause of food anaphylaxis in adults. 

Galacto-oligosaccharide (GOS):  

GOS is a prebiotic found in most milk formulas in Asia, Europe and the USA, which can cause anaphylaxis. It’s a new phenomenon unique to Singapore1 and the South East Asian region.  


There is an increasing prevalence of peanut allergy in Singapore1. Peanut has been found to be the top cause of anaphylaxis in a Singapore pediatric emergency centre, whereas it was an absent cause 14 years ago.  

What is the difference between food allergy and food intolerance?  

It is common to confuse the terms food allergy and food intolerance. However, they do not mean the same thing. Food intolerance, unlike food allergy, does not involve the immune system. Lactose intolerance, trouble digesting the milk sugar lactose, is a common example. Symptoms usually include bloating, abdominal cramps and diarrhoea.  

Food allergy, on the other hand, does involve the immune system. It occurs when the body produces IgE antibodies to a certain food. Common symptoms are hives and asthma.  

Allergy – or not?  

Like many people, you may find it difficult to tell whether your or your child’s symptoms are caused by allergies or not. You also need to remember that a runny or stuffy nose and other symptoms may not be caused by an allergy at all. A number of other factors, such as irritants, infections, injuries, or deformities of the nose, can cause symptoms similar to allergies.  

To treat the symptoms, you need to understand the real cause behind them, since treatment differs for different conditions. Making a conclusive allergy diagnosis can be difficult, since most people with allergies are allergic to more than one thing – many of them may be unknown to the person. Allergens add up to cause symptoms, and what may seem as the obvious one may just be the “tip of the iceberg”. For some children, symptoms may only appear when exposed to two or more allegens at the same time. Minimising the total exposure to allergens may thus be enough to reduce symptoms.  

That’s why it’s important to get tested for allergies to help your doctor make an appropriate allergy diagnosis. 

How does knowing matter? 

When you know that allergy is causing your/your child’s symptoms, you and your doctor can make an individual action plan and take simple steps to reduce exposure to the identified triggers (e.g. exclude specific foods from the diet) which will: 

  • decrease the symptoms 
  • decrease the risk of a severe allergic reaction 
  • decrease the need for medication 

If an allergy is ruled out, further examinations can focus on other causes and you can stop worrying about the possibility of severe allergic reactions. Also, you can minimise the risk of taking/giving your child medication that is unnecessary. This is possible through easy-to-perform blood tests. 

An allergy blood test – for reliable results 

An allergy blood test, in conjunction with clinical history, can help your doctor determine if your child has allergies and to what exactly.  

An allergy blood test 

• is quick and easy 

• requires only one blood sample 

• allows you to keep taking your medications  

• carries no risk of severe allergic reaction 

• can be used at any age 

Please consult your doctor about taking an allergy blood test if you suspect allergies as the cause of your child’s symptoms. 

Allergies change – the value of keeping track 

Some allergies actually disappear as we grow older, while others may arise. Your child should therefore regularly visit a doctor over time in order to determine if he/she has outgrown the allergy  

or if new allergies have developed. 

(adapted from 


  1. Lee & Shek. 2014. Singapore Medical Journal. Vol 55(5) pp 244-247 Doi:10.11622/smedj.2014065