5 allergy myths that are (not) all true

According to statistics, there are 25 million allergy sufferers in Germany alone. Nevertheless, there are still countless untruths and misconceptions about allergies.

Anyone who suffers from a food allergy or lives with someone who suffers from an allergy knows that even everyday things can become a challenge with an allergy. This starts with the choice of clothing materials and ends with going to the restaurant. Because with severe food allergies, every meal can become Russian roulette – at least in a figurative sense.

For people with pollen allergies, activities such as going for a walk or going to an outdoor pool quickly become torture due to uncontrolled sneezing and annoying itching. And: As the journal “Allergo Journal”, which specializes in allergology and clinical immunology, reports in its current issue, the first black alder and hazel pollen are already on the way – to the chagrin of those affected. But not everyone takes the symptoms seriously! Non-allergy sufferers tend to play down the illness of their fellow human beings. Statements and dangerous half-knowledge are often used as arguments. It’s just stupid that the following myths aren’t always true…

1. Myth: “Allergies are just imagination anyway!”

On the contrary! Symptoms such as itching, stuffy nose or difficulty breathing should be proof enough. And when an allergic reaction is severe or affects multiple parts of the body, it can even be life-threatening by triggering allergic shocks. This can also apply to allergies such as food, animal dander or pollen allergies.

But it is important to make a clear distinction between allergies and intolerances. Unlike an intolerance (also: intolerance), allergies are “IgE-mediated”. This means that the allergic immune system produces an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE) when it detects an allergy. These antibodies then try to fight the allergy by releasing histamine and other chemicals, just like when you have the flu or a cold. As the “European Center for Allergy Research Foundation” explains, scientists assume that allergy sufferers have an excess of IgE antibodies. If an allergen (pollen, grass, nuts, etc.) docks with one of the countless antibodies, messenger substances are immediately released to defend it. These compounds are what trigger symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as itching, burning, or sneezing.

2. Myth: “Fast food promotes allergies!”

No myth! This is also proven by a large study (from 16 sub-studies) by the “Asian Pacific Society of Respirology” with around 610,000 participants. Led by Australian and Chinese scientists, the researchers looked at how diet, fast food and allergies are related. The results showed that people who regularly consumed fast food products were also more likely to suffer from allergies such as hay fever, itchy skin rashes or asthma. Incidentally, the latter appeared more frequently with high consumption of hamburgers.

But how is it that ready meals affect our immune system in such a way? After reviewing the study results, scientists believe that high levels of saturated fat prompt the immune system to fight back. It produces more inflammatory cells, which serve as the body’s defense reaction. And it is precisely this defense mechanism that manifests itself in humans as allergies or chronic inflammation. So the best way to prevent or alleviate allergies is also to pay attention to your diet – and to avoid fast food as much as possible.

3. Myth: “Don’t worry, pollen only flies in spring and summer!”

Incorrect! The so-called allergic rhinitis – also popularly known as hay fever – has its peak season in spring/summer, right. That doesn’t mean allergy sufferers are safe the rest of the year, though. Symptoms such as sneezing, itchy eyes or skin rashes are caused by an allergic sensitivity to pollen, grass, trees and even weeds. These can occur in spring, summer, but also in early autumn or during a mild winter. This is because plants such as hazel bushes start their inflorescences in autumn and other flowers bloom even until November due to the mild temperatures.

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), around 15 percent of adults and around 11 percent of children and adolescents in Germany suffer from hay fever. Currently, the period for pollen flights is between February and November. The Institute’s Commission for Environmental Medicine also explains that the increasing pollen load is also linked to air pollutants caused by vehicles and factories. They disturb and influence the plants, causing them to produce more allergens to protect themselves. And then they stay in circulation longer.

4. Myth: “There are more and more allergy sufferers!”

Correct! Pollen, dust, mites, animal dander, food or medicines…yes, the list of known allergies seems endless. That’s what research says too. Allergies are actually on the increase, as shown by figures from a 2017 RKI survey of 23,300 participants aged 18 to 79. The researchers explain the disease growth over the past ten years with the changed eating, living and travel habits of people. All of this can also cause a change in the intestinal flora, which is closely related to the formation of allergies.

Extrapolated around 12.3 million Germans are each affected by hay fever, food allergies or allergic reactions of mucous membranes and skin – almost every third German. It is interesting that women, at 31 percent, are affected much more frequently than men, at around 24 percent. However, the explanation for this has not yet been finally found. Due to the increasing numbers, “the efforts for early diagnosis and appropriate care for allergy sufferers should be further increased,” the RKI reports. This applies above all to improving the quality of life of these people.

5. Myth: “An allergy test can also detect an intolerance!”

Mistake! Because an allergy is not an intolerance and can therefore not be read from the same test. The difference between an allergy and a so-called intolerance (e.g. lactose or fructose) is essentially expressed through the different reactions of the body. In people suffering from an allergy, the immune system causes the reaction. This is what happens when the immune system sees the food as an invader and tries to fight it with an allergic reaction. For example, the messenger substance histamine is released in the body. The result: breathing problems, coughing, vomiting, swelling or a drop in blood pressure as a result of an allergic shock.

In contrast, in the case of intolerance, the reaction is triggered by the digestive system. This means that either the body cannot digest the food properly or certain foods irritate the digestive system (e.g. milk). This results in symptoms such as nausea, flatulence, abdominal pain or other cramps. So while small amounts of food can be life-threatening in the case of an allergy, the “disturbing” food can still be ingested in the case of an intolerance.

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