According to UCLA Health, as many as 1 in 5 Americans suffer from some type of allergy. And those numbers are on the rise. Both seasonal allergies and allergies to food continue to increase in the general population.
What’s causing it? While no one knows for sure, studies show a number of factors can be contributing to the continuing rise in allergies.
We’re Too Clean
Environmental allergies, such as seasonal allergies and allergies to animals, can come from an increasingly “clean” way of life. The Hygiene Hypothesis theorizes that because of the increasing use of antibacterial soaps and other hygiene-related products, the natural development of the immune system is interrupted, leading to an overall increase in allergies.
This seems counter-intuitive since most of us are taught from an early age to value cleanliness. We teach our children songs to make sure they wash their hands long enough. We carry hand sanitizer and squirt it at every opportunity and only allow those pets in our homes that do not shed. Essentially, we’ve cleaned our way into improperly functioning immune systems.
Allergies are the result of the body’s nature immunological response, but instead of reacting to harmful pathogens, such as poison or bacteria, allergies arise as the response to normally harmless chemicals.
UCLA Health notes that allergies are much lower in developing countries where large families in rural areas are regularly exposed to livestock, as compared to their affluent, urban-dwelling counterparts. This is also due to low antibiotic use and transient and variable intestinal micro-flora in developing countries. In westernized countries, such as the U.S., the incidence of asthma, eczema and chronic runny nose is double that of developing countries.
We Restrict Foods
Food allergies are also increasing at an alarming rate, and this could be due in part to delaying the introduction of certain foods to young children. U.S. News Health reports that delaying foods such as milk, eggs and nuts can actually increase the risk of developing those food allergies later on. In the past, The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for introducing solids to infants included delaying these items (cow’s milk, eggs, tree nuts, fish and peanuts) until 12, 24 and 36 months of age (cow’s milk, eggs, tree nuts, fish and peanuts). However, in 2008, the AAP retracted these guidelines on the grounds that there was not enough evidence to support the delay.
The American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology issued new guidelines that help parents better determine when to introduce their infants to these foods in a safe manner. These guidelines include only breast milk for most infants, especially those with a family history of food allergies, and no restrictions on other foods after four to six months, even those more likely to cause allergies, —unless an infant has had an allergic reaction to a particular food. As always, introducing your child to one new food at a time can help you easily recognize the food that results in a reaction. Always consult your pediatrician for advice on which foods are right for your infant, and when these food can be consumableconsumed.
We Take More Drugs
According to UCLA Health, only 5 to 10 percent of all adverse drug reactions are truly drug allergies. The more common reason people claim drug allergies is because of intolerance to a drug, like diarrhea to antibiotics, or nausea and drowsiness from narcotics.Indeed, we’re popping more pills for what ails us – and it could be we’re experiencing side-effects of the medication – not an actual drug allergy.
Of course, you should always tell your doctor when you have a negative reaction so they can find an alternate medication or therapy. People with allergies to foods, pollen and pet hair do have an increased risk of adverse drug reactions due to their already-comprised immune systems.
Allergy Prevention Basics
There is no one perfect way to prevent allergies, but having a healthy immune system is a good place to begin. Adopting a healthy lifestyle of good nutrition, regular exercise and quality sleep can go a long way to in decreasing your risk of developing allergies. Limiting your use of antibacterial products and letting your kids get dirty every now and then may sound like a recipe for illness, but it just might be what you and your family need to decrease your overall risk for allergies.