It’s not just your imagination. Allergies really are on the rise.
A staggering one in five Americans suffer from allergies, a figure that includes food allergies as well as environmental allergies. Asthma, often associated with allergies, has also experienced a steep increase in recent years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of Americans with asthma grew by 28 percent between 2001 and 2011.
That’s a lot of wheezing. And sniffing. And scratching. Not to mention the truly severe allergic reactions, such as anaphylactic shock, which can lead to death.
What is an allergy? Allergic responses are actually the natural responses of a healthy immune system – except instead of responding to harmful bacteria, the immune system is responding to chemicals that are usually harmless. Allergies are, in essence, the product of a confused immune system.
What’s causing the confusion?
Given the rising tide of allergies, it’s no wonder that several recent studies have been devoted to determining this. Though none is universally agreed upon, here are a few of the prevalent theories that have arisen about the cause of recent allergy increases.
Theory #1: The Hygiene Hypothesis
This is the theory that our era’s obsession with germ-free sanitation has led to the opposite effect we desired. Basically, the Hygiene Hypothesis posits that growing up in the age of hand sanitizers and bacteria-destroying cleaning products has contributed to rising allergies.
These conclusions are drawn from the fact that populations in which families are large, antibiotic usage low, and sanitation poor experience fewer allergies than populations with small families, high antibiotic usage, and good sanitation. These findings seem to suggest that by not exposing ourselves to the world’s grime and grit, we’re not allowing our bodies to learn how to properly respond to them.
Maybe letting the kids roll around in the mud isn’t such a bad idea.
Theory #2: Increased Medication Use
Today, we use medications to treat far more conditions than we used to. One theory about growing allergy rates is that they’re tied to our increasing use of drug treatments.
The hypothesis is not that allergies to medications are really increasing, merely that we’re taking more medications and experiencing more of their unpleasant side effects – which aren’t actually allergies. These responses, such as headaches and dizziness, are caused by the drugs. They’re just not the immune responses for which they are often mistaken.
Theory #3: Delayed Introduction of Foods
It was relatively recently that the notion that infants should not be allowed certain foods, like peanuts, became widespread. Several medical authorities theorize that by withholding these foods from infants, we may be contributing to allergy development.
Of course, this hypothesis is inconclusive, but the tie between infant food restrictions and allergies is certainly under investigation. Evidence in favor of the connection lies in the fact that cultures that introduce the peanut earlier have fewer cases of severe peanut allergies, though this could be the result of other factors.
Allergy Testing and Treatments
If you or a loved one are part of the growing population suffering from allergies, be sure to explore the many possible treatments. Here at Lyceum Physical Medicine, we offer allergy testing, sublingual immunotherapy treatment, allergy shots, needle-free treatments, and more.