More than one in three people in the UK now reportedly suffer from 'one or more allergies', the highest rate anywhere in the world. The Global Allergy and Asthma European Network, referring to 'an epidemic of allergic disease', believes we're on course for one in two people. But, judging by conversation when the topic is mentioned, that ratio has already been surpassed. Where once tattoos or body-piercings were revealed and counted at social gatherings, one can now feel an outcast if unable to list a string of allergies.
Indeed, it is the rarity or esoteric combination of allergies which makes conversation with sufferers particularly poetic. 'I'm allergic to pool chlorine, scrambled eggs and man-sweat,' says one person. 'Holy water, wallpaper paste and old books and newspapers,' says the next. 'Octopus, metal - except knives and forks - and leather above the knees, for which I'm treated with sponge cucumber and spinal manipulation,' says another.
Explanations for the increase in allergies are confusing. It could be either because children were raised with far too much muck around, or far too little; because modern living is great or because it's awful; despite penicillin's existence or because of it. An increasing number of people have allergic reactions not only to cleaning products which might banish allergens, but to external medical items: hankies, band-aids, E45 cream, nicotine strips, dissolvable stitches, dressings, plaster casts, latex gloves, even placebo skin-prick tests.
There are reports of people having allergic reactions to banknotes, rainwater, even their own saliva or tears. Meanwhile, a recent study concluded that asthma - the most common and growing allergy - is exacerbated rather than relieved by laughing. 'The Allergy Show' at Olympia in June - not to be confused with Da Ali G Show - is a hot ticket.