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Common allergy myths: What is and is not true about allergies

Posted by mandyf on September 11, 2012

Seasonal allergies are on the rise, and no amount of clean living has changed that. It was only a mere 40 or so years ago that many allergists believed people were born with allergies or they weren’t, and it was just that simple. You had hay fever or you didn’t. You were allergic to pollen or you weren’t. By the mid 1970’s that way of thinking had been pretty thoroughly tossed on the scrap heap and an new way of looking at allergies was born. Even with much passage of time, there are many misconceptions about allergies.

Allergists don’t deny that genetics does play a role in allergies, but they now also realize that environment is a factor as well. They don’t have all the pieces to the puzzle to provide a definitive answer as to why some people are allergic to things others are not, or why some people develop allergies late in life while others seem to get over them after years of suffering. As allergists them self are unsure of so many things still, many myths about allergies have survived because they seem to make sense, and all things considered, it’s no wonder.

Many people believe that allergy shots only work on children. This goes back to the 1960’s when allergists believed that the adult immune system was for the most part impervious to any for of inoculation against allergies. Actually, many even felt the same held true for children. The truth is that inoculations can work at any age, the key researchers discovered is the routine. One shot is not going to do anything on its own. In about 85% of people that suffer from hay fever for instance that follow a program, they do get some relief.

The amount of relief is variable, but anyone suffering from severe allergies will tell you anything is an improvement. A typical program would include either one or two shots per week that gradually increase the amount of allergen a person is exposed to for about 6 months. Once that phase is complete a person typically needs a maintenance shot every 3 weeks or so for perhaps as many as 4 to 5 years. At some point though, many people build a tolerance for exposure to the allergen so that when they encounter it naturally it no longer causes a pronounced reaction, or in some cases any reaction at all.

A very persistent allergy myth is that of you are allergic to something, it is just that one specific thing that can trigger the allergy. For example, if you are allergic to the pollen from birch trees, you may think that only that specific pollen in the air will trigger your allergy. The reality is any fruit from a birch tree can trigger that reaction just as easily.

Similarly, proteins found in the skins of certain foods can trigger an allergic reaction. An allergy to ragweed could be triggered by sunflower seeds, cucumber, or even chamomile tea. This definitely is not true concerning everyone, but it is something to be aware of as you can go years unaffected and then out of the blue it triggers your allergies.

One of the biggest allergy myths is that you shouldn’t use any allergy medication until symptoms present them self. In actuality, you should be looking forward and being proactive whenever possible. Allergy medication will work after exposure has taken place, just not as effectively. To get the maximum potential benefit of an allergy medication it should be in your system before exposure as it will desensitize you to the allergen.

The science behind this is that when you experience an allergic reaction to pollen for instance, that means that trace amounts have entered your respiratory tract. The pollen aggravates your system and histamines and leukotrienes are released which is what sneezing, runny noses, itchy eyes, and the full arsenal of general discomfort. By taking the appropriate allergy medication in advance of exposure you prevent histamines and leukotrienes from being released and avoid or greatly reduce any reactive symptoms.

Another fallacy is that you do not develop new allergies as an adult. The fact is allergies can develop at any time, and they can subside at any time just as easily. In fact ins some cases a child may have terrible bouts with an allergy only to seemingly be “cured” from them in the their early adult years. The kicker is those allergies can and often will return later in life. There is in some regards no rhyme or reason as to why this happens in such a seemingly random fashion at this time, but many allergists believe I they can isolate exactly why this phenomena is possible they may be able to learn how to curb many allergies permanently.

The biggest myth of all perhaps is that if you live a clean life – that means you compulsively clean – you will not develop allergies. The truth is that is nowhere near true. That doesn’t mean you should live in a pig sty, cleanliness is a good thing, but it is not going to end allergies unless for example you live in a bubble. In actuality, a little bit of exposure to allergens is a good thing because it helps build your immunity to them.

With that said, cleaning alone is not going to remove allergens from your home if you are not using the right equipment. You can vacuum 24/7 and it won’t make any difference if the allergens are being re-deposited all over your home through the exhaust. If you use a vacuum with a HEPA filter, you really only need to vacuum one or two times a week. Just keeping your windows closed can drastically cut down on the amount of allergens in your home. You do not need to be Felix Unger to keep your home primarily free of allergens.

Studies into allergies have made significant advances over the last decade and should continue to do so. If you have never dealt with allergies before and think you may be for the first time, check for a few symptoms to see if you have allergies or if you are sick

* Your eyes, nose and throat are itchy
* Check your nasal discharge – is it clear runny and thin?
* have the symptoms been present for two or more weeks?

If you answered yes to the above questions the odds are very strong you have an allergy. Before treating it yourself with over the counter medication, you may want to strongly consider visiting an allergists who can perform a test to pinpoint specifically what you are allergic to and make sure you get the proper treatment for it.

Sources:
http://www.medicinenet.com/allergy/page2.htm
http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/ allergies/basics/083.html
http://www.webmd.com/allergies/guide/allergic-reacti on-causes
http://www.aafa.org/display.cfm?id=9&cont=79
http://www.emedicinehealth.com/allergic_reaction/art icle_em.htm
http://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues /conditions/allergies-asthma/pages/Allergy-Causes.as px?nfstatus=401&nftoken=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000&nfstatusdescription=ERROR%3a+No+local+token

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