Do you know the truth about allergies? Or have you bought into misguided lore?
As an allergy doctor, I’ve been helping people overcome allergic misery for over 35 years. Often, people are kept from getting the help they need because they lack a full understanding of the nature of allergies.
Read on to learn about some of the prevalent myths surrounding allergies.
1) Myth: I will grow out of my allergies
If you’re talking hay fever, there is a chance that you could develop immunity to certain pollens with age. About half of people say that their symptoms improve with age, but 80% say that they maintain at least some degree of allergy to environmental triggers like pollen, dust, mold, and pets.
As for food allergies, kids typically grow out of food allergies to milk and eggs by the time they are 16, but certain food allergies usually continue into adulthood. These include fish and shellfish allergies (only 5% outgrow), tree nut allergies (only 15% outgrow), and peanut allergies (only 20% outgrow).
New research indicates that waiting to get allergy treatment can be detrimental. If children can start a kid-friendly allergy treatment such as sublingual immunotherapy, they can head off what is known as the “allergic march.” This is where allergic disease progressively affects different systems of the body. It typically starts with eczema in babies and progresses to food allergies in toddlers and seasonal allergies and possibly asthma in children. Treating these allergies at a young age can help stop the march before it escalates into more serious symptoms and chronic allergy-related diseases.
2) Myth: I wasn’t allergic as a child so I won’t develop allergies
Allergies can develop at any age. Even if you outgrew certain allergies you had in childhood, new ones can develop.
Sometimes this happens because you’re exposed to new allergens. Maybe your neighbor planted allergenic trees in their yard or ragweed started taking over a nearby vacant lot.
New allergies can also develop as a result of your immune system weakening, which can happen as a natural consequence of aging. The immune system can also take a temporary dip during pregnancy or a time of illness. If you’re exposed to a new allergen while you’re not at your peak, you may develop allergies that you have not experienced before.
3) Myth: I won’t react to pets that don’t shed
A lot of people believe that animal hair causes allergies, concluding that a pet with less hair will cause fewer allergies. In truth, it is the animal’s dander—or dead skin cells—that trigger allergies. Proteins found in an animal’s saliva or urine can also cause allergic reactions.
Animal hair can exacerbate allergies because the dander can get caught in it, but it does not cause the allergies. Cat breeds such as Devon Rex (very short hair) or Sphynx (hairless) are often favored by people with pet allergies who still want to have a furry friend. However, there are no truly hypoallergenic cats or dogs because they all produce dander, spit, and urine.
4) Myth: Allergy shots are the only form of allergy treatment
Allergy shots are a type of allergy immunotherapy known as subcutaneous immunotherapy. They are a wonderful form of allergy treatment—one of the few that can actually change the underlying allergic disease—not just its symptoms.
However, this is not the only type of allergy immunotherapy. Another type is called sublingual immunotherapy, which is administered as liquid drops under the tongue instead of as injections. It was developed in the 1980s and has a huge pedigree of double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical studies verifying its safety and efficacy. In Europe, it is prescribed at least as often as allergy shots, and it is quickly gaining traction here in the U.S.
Sublingual immunotherapy presents some significant advantages over shots. First, it is safer than shots so it can be administered at home, and because of this safety profile, it can also be prescribed to kids at younger ages than shots can. Studies have even shown that it is safe for toddlers. And unlike shots, it has been shown to be a safe and effective food allergy treatment. It is currently being used for egg, milk, wheat, and nut allergy treatment…and more.
5) Myth: Allergy medications will diminish my allergies
Over-the-counter or prescription medications may suppress your allergy symptoms, but they will not affect the underlying allergic disease in the least. Once you stop the medications, allergy symptoms return. Only allergy immunotherapy is capable of retraining your immune system and relieving allergic disease long-term.
6) Myth: Moving to a drier climate will help my allergies
People used to move to hot, dry states like Arizona to escape allergies—and for good reason. While these parts of the country still produce some allergenic plants like sagebrush and Russian thistle, they naturally have less mold, less grass, fewer weeds, and fewer pollen-producing trees. They have even been found to have less dust.
However, many parts of these states have been transformed from their natural state. As people have moved to these states and missed the greenery that they left behind, they have added pollen-producing grass and trees to the environment. These states are not the “allergy-free havens” that they once were.
7) Myth: A good air filter will make my home allergy-free
Staying inside on particularly allergenic days can help with allergies, but every time you open your door, a waft of pollens and other allergens can enter your home.
Many people try to combat this by ordering expensive HEPA filters to clear out the bad stuff from the air. The best filters on the market claim to remove 99.95% of ultrafine particles from the air, including dust, pollen, and pet dander. Bear in mind, however, that this success rate is from highly controlled tests in laboratory environments. In real life settings, they may be less effective depending on many variables (flow rate, location, operating time, etc.).
Additionally, despite the impressive claims, there’s very little empirical evidence to support that air purifiers help directly to reduce allergies. They certainly can’t hurt, but don’t depend on them to be a panacea.
Good health starts with being informed. Contact us if you need more help understanding the causes and symptoms of allergy as well as allergy treatment options.