Are Allergies Becoming More Common?

Are Allergies On The Increase?

Yes. The word 'epidemic' is now being freely used, even by the most conservative of scientists and doctors. All the classical allergic diseases such as asthma, hay fever, atopic eczema and peanut allergies are increasing at an alarming rate.

Hay fever: In the 1930s hay fever was extremely rare, in the 1960s it affected about 3 percent of children, and today the figure is about 18 percent.
Asthma: In the 1960s it affected about 4 percent of children, in the 1989 about 10 percent and today about 20 percent.
Atopic Eczema: Increased from 3 percent in the 1960s (U.S.) to 10 percent in the 1990s. More than 16 percent of kids in Britain now have atopic eczema.
Peanut Allergy: One UK study showed that the rate of peanut allergies has doubled in less than a decade.

So Why Are Allergies On The Increase?

If you were hoping for a simple answer - sorry, there isn't one! The causes are many and varied. But one thing is clear, this is a disease of the modern Westernized society. Rural Africa, where people live a simple subsistence lifestyle, few people have any of these diseases. In fact, there are no words in their language for hay fever or asthma. However, as soon as these people become more affluent and change their lifestyle, allergic diseases appear.

Air Pollution The Culprit?

Many are keen to blame air pollution (particularly traffic pollution) for causing asthma, but a look at the research shows this is a myth. While pollution can trigger an asthma attack in someone already with the disease, it doesn't cause it to develop in the first place. While growing up in polluted air may increase the risk of developing asthma, it only makes a small difference. It can't account for the asthma epidemic. For example, in rural New Zealand, where there are no factories, and sheep by far outnumber cars, asthma rates are among the highest in the world.

Is It Dust Mites?

Allergy to house dust-mites has also received alot of publicity and it does play an important part. Our warm, carpeted homes allow these tiny creatures to breed freely, and many people with asthma, atopic eczema and perennial rhinitis have an allergy to dust mites. Recent research shows that dust mites play a larger role than anyone previously suspected. The dust-mite allergen actually provokes immune cells in your body, so once an allergy to dust mites begins, other allergies become more likely. But blaming dust mites as the supreme cause of this allergy epidemic is false too. Why? Because in the highlands of New Mexico, where the air is too dry for dust mites to survive, asthma cases are just as high as elsewhere in the Western world.

Researchers now believe that the way we bring children up in the West, may spoil their immune system and make them more prone to allergies. One study for example showed that children who wash their hands more than 5 times a day and have two baths a day are twice as likely to get asthma as children who wash their hands less than 3 times a day and only bath every second day. Taking antibiotics during the first 2 years of life, bottle feeding, being around a mother who smokes and a c-section delivery may also all affect a young child's immune system.

• Need more information about allergies? See:

What is an allergy?
Defining allergies, understanding the correct terminology.
Do allergies run in families?
Discover if your DNA plays a role.

Can you grow out of allergies?
Question relates to both children and adults.

Which foods cause allergies?
The top and less common food culprits.

Can allergies kill you?
The dangers of a kiss when severe allergies!
What are the signs of hay fever?
Common and less common symptoms.
What is hay fever?
A more clinicial explanation.

• Got another question? See: Allergy Questions

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