The number of people admitted to hospital with anaphylaxis, the severest form of allergic reaction, has soared more than threefold in the past decade.
More than 30,000 people suffered a potentially life-threatening attack in 2004 - sudden swelling, breathlessness and low blood pressure - of whom half were treated in accident and emergency departments, and 3,171 were admitted to hospital. The most common triggers are insect stings and foods such as peanuts, and women are 40 per cent more likely to be admitted to hospital than men. Emergency treatment with an injection of adrenaline must be delivered in the event of an attack.
A government report, a review of services for allergy, says 10 to 20 deaths a year are caused by anaphylaxis, but they are often not recorded on death certificates. The rate almost doubled in the past two years "which is a cause of concern," it says.
It says the rise may be linked to the increase in food allergies, which now affect 4 per cent of adults and 6 per cent of children under the age of three.
Shellfish and nuts are the most common allergies. Some studies suggest allergy to peanuts has more than doubled in the past decade, affecting more than one in a hundred children.
But food allergy is less widespread than believed, the review says. Surveys show one in five adults believe they are intolerant to certain foods, but blind testing has confirmed it in only one in 20 cases.
There were 70,000 hospital admissions and 924 deaths from asthma in 2004, which is often triggered by allergies.
But the review says the prevalence of asthma has declined since peaking in the mid-1990s, possibly due to better treatment.
The review was commissioned by the Department of Health in response to the Commons Health Select Committee, which severely criticised the lack of NHS services for allergy sufferers, in November 2004.
Millions of people are receiving inadequate treatment and waiting up to nine months to see a specialist because of a shortage of allergy clinics and trained practitioners, it says.
A third of the population develop an allergy at some point in their lives and three million people visit their GPs for treatment each year, but the review team said it could find "only one published example of an allergy clinic in primary care [in Harrow, Middlesex] set up to improve local services."
There are 94 allergy clinics attached to NHS hospitals in England but only six are led by full-time specialist allergists. Doctors receive "little or no formal training in allergy", and there is no reference to it in the new GP curriculum, the review says.
Ivan Lewis, Care Services minister, said: "People with allergies often feel let down by a poor and frequently unobtainable service." He said action would be taken to establish local needs for allergy service and increase training places, as recommended by the review.
The department would consider commissioning the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence to draw up guidelines for the treatment of allergy.Reuse content