General Health Friday November 18, 2011

Why allergy numbers are at an all-time high

Research from Allergy UK, a leading health charity dedicated to allergies, shows that more and more people are being diagnosed with allergies. This is not just the case in the UK but also in the US where research has shown an increase in food allergies among young children. According to a CNN report, allergic reactions to food logged at a Boston hospital more than doubled between 2001 and 2006.

This increase of allergic diseases has led to many theories trying to isolate a reason. One notion is that our Western diet could be the cause of the problem, as it’s too rich in animal fats, sugars and calories. There are also those experts that would suggest that children are more sensitive to allergies because they aren’t exposed to them at a young enough age, largely because of fears of a potential allergic reaction.

Some allergy experts also tend to think that modern medications has meant that our immune system doesn’t have to deal with many of the infections it traditionally would have to deal with, leading it to react adversely to everyday elements in our environment.

However, one of the most commonly assumed reasons for the increase in both food and inhaled allergies is that we are living in a cleaner environment, meaning that our bodies lack exposure to many allergens that would normally have been present in our environment, leaving it unable to build up a tolerance.

All these theories, however plausible, still require concrete and controlled proof, which doesn’t help parents looking to protect their children from a life-long struggle with allergies. Except being vigilant and paying particular attention to their child’s environment to eliminate allergens, there isn’t much parents can do yet. However, cutting out particular allergens, especially food allergens, could lead to other issues with nutrition, which is why parents and doctors need to be aware of the suitable and safe alternatives. But researchers from Stanford School of Medicine believe that simply leaving allergens out, especially foods, isn’t well enough researched as a treatment.

Allergies don’t just develop in childhood; in fact many people who develop serious allergies do so later on in life as adults. According to Tina Dixon, a consultant allergist at Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University hospital, this is also a more recent occurrence. Quoted in a Guardian report on the rise in allergies in adults, she said that: "Older adults coming to my clinic suffering late -sensitisation to fruit and vegetables were a rarity in the 1980s." She believes that adults develop these allergies because they are exposed to it in a natural way over a long period of time. She used the example of a chef suddenly developing an allergy to eggs after working with it for years while cooking, absorbing it through his fingers and breathing it in during the cooking process.

This over-exposure theory is also supported by US allergists, who at a meeting at the American College of Allergy announced that many people tend to develop allergies to ‘the things we love’ such as pets, alcoholic beverages or room and air fresheners.

All the reports about allergic diseases being on the increase can be scary, especially since it seems like allergies have become an unavoidable part of modern Western living. But hopefully allergy research and awareness will identify ways in which we can live alongside allergens in our environment without it affecting our lives.

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