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Allergies on the rise

7 Apr 2024

Allergies need to be taken seriously. Heather Roberts, who presented an abstract at the 40th CRANAplus Conference and has worked for the National Allergy Council since 2019, explains how rural and remote health workers can access information and training to spread the knowledge in their communities.

One in five Aus­tralians have an aller­gy, one in ten babies have a food aller­gy – and aller­gies are on the rise.

But there is a short­age of spe­cial­ists in this field, cre­at­ing incred­i­bly long wait­ing peri­ods to get atten­tion in pub­lic hos­pi­tals, and bot­tle­necks for peo­ple to get a prop­er diag­no­sis,” Heather says.

In addi­tion, there is a fair amount of mis­in­for­ma­tion sur­round­ing the issue of aller­gies in gen­er­al, which con­fus­es people.”

The range of aller­gies and the range of symp­toms and effects, means some peo­ple may not take aller­gies as seri­ous­ly as they should, Heather says. 

That’s why we need well-edu­cat­ed health pro­fes­sion­als in the community.”

Impor­tant resources avail­able to health pro­fes­sion­als include man­u­als and evi­dence-based resources to give guid­ance, and online oppor­tu­ni­ties to under­take edu­ca­tion and train­ing through the Aus­tralasian Soci­ety of Clin­i­cal Immunol­o­gy and Aller­gy (ASCIA).

Heather, who has worked for the past fif­teen years on projects to improve health­care ser­vices in Aus­tralia, is man­ag­ing the nation­al Shared Care for Aller­gy project which aims to improve access to aller­gy care, par­tic­u­lar­ly for peo­ple liv­ing in rur­al and remote areas. The right care has a pos­i­tive effect on people’s lives, she says.

In the first instance, the health pro­fes­sion­al needs to know if it is an aller­gy or some­thing else, and then what to do next,” Heather says, “[so] cor­rect diag­no­sis and man­age­ment of aller­gies is very important.

Of course, avoid­ing the cause of an aller­gy is cru­cial, but not always easy. For a food aller­gy, for exam­ple, it’s impor­tant to know how to read prod­uct labels. Get­ting the right edu­ca­tion and sup­port around that time is impor­tant. Dieti­tians, par­tic­u­lar­ly those with addi­tion­al train­ing in aller­gies, can be very helpful.

Par­ents need guid­ance too, to help their chil­dren and man­age their aller­gies while they’re younger, and help their chil­dren learn how to man­age their aller­gies as they get old­er and become more inde­pen­dent, par­tic­u­lar­ly if it is a severe food allergy.

Oth­er aller­gies can be caused by cer­tain mate­ri­als, such as latex, and knowl­edge is need­ed to deal with con­di­tions such as eczema and aller­gic rhini­tis which can have a sig­nif­i­cant impact on day-to-day living.”

Pho­to cred­it: Ash­ley Whit­worth stock​.adobe​.com

Heather, who is work­ing on the project under the lead­er­ship of a pae­di­atric aller­gy spe­cial­ist from ASCIA and head of a nation­al sup­port organ­i­sa­tion for peo­ple with aller­gies (Aller­gy & Ana­phy­lax­is Aus­tralia), is con­sult­ing with a wide range of stake­hold­ers, such as peo­ple with aller­gies, par­ents of chil­dren affect­ed by aller­gies, health pro­fes­sion­als car­ing for these peo­ple and clin­i­cal immunology/​allergy specialists.

We want to make sure that peo­ple across the board, in cities and in rur­al and remote areas, get the best care pos­si­ble, so they can man­age their aller­gy and live well,” says Heather.

It’s gen­er­al­ly a life­long sit­u­a­tion for most peo­ple, and it’s impor­tant to learn to man­age it.

The focus on rur­al and remote areas is because it is acknowl­edged that the short­age of pro­fes­sion­al health work­ers in gen­er­al is a prob­lem. Oth­er bar­ri­ers to good care [include] dis­tance and long trav­el times to get to the cities.”

Heather says that the Shared Care for Aller­gy project is also look­ing at var­i­ous options to cope with the short­age such as a point of con­tact that health pro­fes­sion­als can tap into to access the avail­able knowl­edge base, and the poten­tial for out­reach aller­gy clin­ics, where teams can go out and con­duct clin­ics, per­haps with local health pro­fes­sion­als learn­ing ways to take care of their patients on the job.

Use­ful information

Nation­al Aller­gy Coun­cil Shared Care for Aller­gy project

For con­sumers: The Aller­gy & Ana­phy­lax­is Aus­tralia web­site aller​gy​facts​.org​.au offers resources and a sup­port line (1300 728 000)

For health pro­fes­sion­als: The Aus­tralasian Soci­ety of Clin­i­cal Immunol­o­gy and Aller­gy (ASCIA) is the peak health pro­fes­sion­al body for aller­gy in Aus­tralia. Their web­site aller​gy​.org​.au has lots of resources for health pro­fes­sion­als who want to learn more about aller­gies and ana­phy­lax­is. Their e‑training can be viewed here: aller​gy​.org​.au/​h​p​/​h​p​-​e​-​t​r​a​ining