An allergy is a response by your immune system to a “typically” harmless foreign substance that is present in your body. These substances are known as allergens. Examples of allergens are pollen, certain foods, and pet dander.
Your immune system has a specific task. It maintains your body’s health by fighting pathogens. It attacks potentially harmful substances that are present in your body. The response by your immune system depends on the type of allergen. It may involve sneezing, inflammation, or other symptoms.
The human immune system adjusts automatically to its environment. For instance, under normal conditions, if you make contact with pet dander, your immune system will know that it is harmless. However, in people who are allergic to pet dander, their immune system will perceive it as a toxic foreign substance – a sort of pathogen trying to invade the body. And so, it will switch into action and start attacking it.
Statistics by the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) show that over 50 million Americans suffer from allergies each year. Unfortunately, however, many people still entertain some myths and misconceptions about allergies. According to David Stukus, MD, an Ohio-based allergist, most of these myths are widely available on the internet, which astonishingly, serves as a main health information hub for over 72 percent of users.
Don’t fall victim to misinformation and myths. Getting the right information will help you to manage your allergies rightly from medical professionals such as the physicians at Potomac ENT.
This article will explore some common myths and misconceptions about allergies, and the facts behind them.
Myth 1: Food intolerance is a form of allergy
It is easy to confuse food intolerance with allergies, as they may share similar symptoms. It is important to understand that most food intolerances differ from allergies because they don’t involve the immune system. Many people resort to self-diagnosis, and this results in the assumption that they have an allergy when they don’t.
A 1994 study published in the Journal of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology found that 34% of participants claimed that their children had food allergies. However, only 5% had an allergy. People who are intolerant of certain foods can eat small amounts of these foods without reacting to it. On the other hand, people who have a food allergy will react to the food even if they take very small amounts of it. The allergic reactions are usually quick, and in some instances, may be life-threatening.
Notable Exceptions: Research is ongoing to find out whether certain food intolerances do involve the immune system; if they are found to do so, they will be identified as allergies.
Myth 2: It is difficult to outgrow allergies
Many people outgrow allergies. However, it happens gradually. A study by the Mayo Clinic found that 60% to 80% of children outgrow egg or milk allergies before they reach the age of 16.
Studies have also shown that younger people’s bodies respond to allergens much more than those of the elderly. This means that allergic sensitization is higher in younger people than in the elderly. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology showed that aging was linked with low levels of sensitization to cats and dust mites.
Myth 3: Food allergies and pollen don’t overlap
People who have hay fever also experience the pollen-food syndrome. Another name for this condition is oral allergy syndrome. Pollen food syndrome (oral allergy syndrome) occurs when the immune system reacts to some pollen allergens found in tree nuts, vegetables, or raw fruits. The list below shows some types of pollen that are present in certain foods:
- Ragweed: cantaloupe, bananas, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, honeydew.
- Grass: oranges, melon, potatoes, peanuts.
- Birch: cherries, apricots, nectarines, walnuts, tomatoes.
- Alder: cherries, apples, almonds, celery, pears, and hazelnuts.
The cooked form of these vegetables and fruits may not trigger any allergic reaction; however, it is often recommended that the best thing to do is to avoid these foods.
Myth 4: You can only take allergy medications when you have the symptoms
The truth is that if you take the administered medication before symptoms develop, you may prevent an allergic reaction. A lot of people with seasonal allergies take medication only when they have symptoms. It is often recommended that the best thing to do is start treatment before you experience any symptoms to protect your immune system from a pollen-induced allergic attack or any other form of an allergic reaction.
Mast cell stabilizers (which are drugs for allergic reactions) function by blocking the release of chemicals from the immune system that cause allergic eye or nasal passageway reactions. These medications are prescribed to people with seasonal allergies beginning around two weeks before the allergy season.
Myth 5: Vaccines can cause egg allergies
Here’s another interesting myth about allergies. Many people who are allergic to eggs think that these allergies were caused by vaccines. Why? Well, often times viruses used in many vaccines are grown in chicken embryos, so people conjured up this falsified connection. You should, however, understand that the flu shot is safe, and it can prevent many fatal sicknesses.
People also believe that vaccines can cause autism in children. According to the CDC, there’s no science-based evidence for this belief.
Myth 6: Hay fever isn’t an allergy but just a nuisance
Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, is very common among Americans. Millions of cases are diagnosed each year. Hay fever may be seasonal – caused by mold spores or pollen. It can also occur all-year-round, triggered by cockroaches, mold, pets, and dust mites. There is another condition known as non-allergic rhinitis. Non-allergic rhinitis has no association with the immune system and may be triggered by foods, medications, or airborne irritants like perfume and smoke.
Common symptoms of hay fever include coughing, sneezing, nasal congestion, and itchy eyes. Treatment involves reducing your exposure to its triggers. It can also be resolved with medications like antihistamines and decongestants.
It is worth noting that hay fever can trigger some complications. This study observes that it can interfere with your sleep pattern and increase your susceptibility to ear infections and sinusitis.
While allergies are very common, most allergies can be effectively managed with medications, lifestyle modifications, and avoidance of triggers. Work with your physician or the allergy experts at Potomac ENT in order to reduce allergy complications and live a more enjoyable life.
American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Allergy Facts. https://acaai.org/news/facts-statistics/allergies
American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Defining Allergy Fact from Fiction. https://acaai.org/news/defining-allergy-fact-fiction
Hide, D. (1994), The Isle of Wight study, an approach to allergy prevention. Pediatric Allergy and Immunology, 5: 61-64. doi:10.1111/j.1399-3038.1994.tb00351.x
Shawn Bishop (2013). Likelihood of Child Outgrowing Food Allergy Depends on Type, Severity of Allergy (2013). Mayo Clinic News Network. Retrieved from https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/likelihood-of-child-outgrowing-food-allergy-depends-of-type-severity-of-allergy/
Amaral, A., Newson, R. B., Abramson, M. J., Antó, J. M., Bono, R., Corsico, A. G., de Marco, R., Demoly, P., Forsberg, B., Gislason, T., Heinrich, J., Huerta, I., Janson, C., Jõgi, R., Kim, J. L., Maldonado, J., Martinez-Moratalla Rovira, J., Neukirch, C., Nowak, D., Pin, I., … Jarvis, D. L. (2016). Changes in IgE sensitization and total IgE levels over 20 years of follow-up. The Journal of allergy and clinical immunology, 137(6), 1788–1795.e9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaci.2015.09.037
Gordon Sussman, Arthur Sussman, David Sussman (2010). Oral Allergy Syndrome. CMAJ 182 (11) 1210-1211; DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.090314
Settipane R. A. (1999). Complications of allergic rhinitis. Allergy and asthma proceedings, 20(4), 209–213. https://doi.org/10.2500/108854199778339053