Inflammation

Are allergies really on the rise? 

30/07/2019
Are allergies really on the rise? 

What are allergies?

When the warm season begins, people often fear the outbreak of a pandemic wave of summer flu. That is because they are suddenly surrounded by sniffing people with red-grated, burning eyes.

Although hay fever is not contagious, the number of patients increases from year to year. According to the Robert Koch Institute, almost 15% of Germans suffer from hay fever at some point in their lives[1]. The patient rate is also rising among small children.

In general, an allergy is defined as an overreaction of the immune system. A harmless substance is wrongly identified as a health risk and fought at all costs. The symptoms correspond to common infectious diseases since the immune system would react similarly, with irritation of the mucous membranes, swelling of the respiratory tract, etc. 

We're talking about an inflammatory reaction. The cells of the immune system, in this case, the mast cells, recognize an antigen (pathogen), which in the case of hay fever has reached the inside of the body via the airways.

The concerned cell then produces an excessive amount of IgE antibody and a release of the messenger substance histamine finally causes the symptoms [2,3].

 

Why are we allergic? 

First, the genetic factor plays a role in the development of an allergy. However, only susceptibility to allergies can be transferred from parents to children, not specific allergies. 

Approximately 10% of children without genetic predisposition have allergies. On the other hand, 20%-30% of children who have a direct relative with symptoms develop allergies in their childhood[3]. 

Symptoms of seasonal allergy are very similar to those of a common cold, runny nose, watery, itchy eyes and cough.

They are usually treated with over-the-counter antihistamines or, for a long-term effect, by immunotherapy with low doses of the allergen to train the immune system.

  

More allergies today?[4,5] 

Pollen allergies are common throughout Europe, which is considered as one air zone. In general, European allergists have shown an increase in the prevalence of the disease over the last decades. 

In a statement by the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, it is stated, that the increasing prevalence can be attributed to the so-called hygiene hypothesis

This hypothesis states that living conditions in many parts of the world today are simply too "clean" so that children are no longer exposed to enough pathogens to train their immune system. It can no longer tell the difference between dangerous and harmless substances. 

Studies have shown that children who grow up on farms developed fewer allergies because they are more often exposed to germs and germ components such as endotoxin, which increases immune responses and reduces allergic inflammation. 

Another theory is that antibiotic treatment, especially if it takes place very early in childhood, changes the intestinal flora. 

Since this conglomerate of helpful bacteria is essential for a healthy immune system, a change could decrease the immune system's efficacy. 

  

What is the influence of climate change? 

The lifestyle and status of a person's immune system can change the severity of allergies from year to year. On the other hand, the environment tends to cause more pollen to fly every year. 

Warmer temperatures can occur every other year. And climate change is also leading to an overall upward temperature trend. A period of warm weather that lasts for a long time offers the potential for prolonged pollen production. 

Carbon dioxide, the notorious greenhouse gas, can lead to increased pollen production, which in turn gives the plant more seeds and ultimately, the year after, even more plants producing pollen. A vicious circle [7].

  

Therapy and easing symptoms

If an allergy is not treated longterm through immunotherapy, nasal sprays, eye drops, and inhalation can usually alleviate the symptoms and antihistamines can even stop them for a short time. Many simply make sure that allergies do not develop in the first place. 

Contact avoidance with the allergen is probably the easiest measure to enjoy summer with hay fever.

 

 The following points can make a huge difference:

 

  • Specifying the type of allergen (allergy test)
    • Find out the pollen flight time (months and daily pollen radar)
  • Spend less time outdoors
    • In the countryside, there is less pollen flying in the evening (19 - 24 o'clock), in the city in the mornings (6 - 8 o'clock).
  • Store street clothes outside your bedroom
  • Wash your hair daily 
  • Attach pollen filter to window
  • Wear (sun) glasses outdoors
  • No sporting activities during strong pollen flight

 

Prevention 

In early childhood, important approaches to the prevention of allergies ensure undisturbed development and strengthening of the natural immune system:

 

  • Breastfeeding to the age of at least four months
    • Parts of the mother's immune system can be transferred to the infant.
  • Growing up in a non-smoking household
  • Probiotic bacteria through baby food
    • A healthy intestinal flora is part of a healthy immune system
  • Presence of sufficient vitamin C and E, and omega-3 polyunsaturated fats in the diet [8].

 

 

 [1] https://www.allergieinformationsdienst.de/krankheitsbilder/heuschnupfen/verbreitung.html

[2] https://www.healthline.com/health/allergies.

[3] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1398-9995.2007.01393.x.

[4] Van Neerven, R. J. J., and Huub Savelkoul. “Nutrition and Allergic Diseases.” Nutrients 9.7 (2017): 762. PMC. Web. 2 July 2018

[5] https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/allergy-library/prevalence-of-allergies-and-asthma#.

[6] http://science.sciencemag.org/content/296/5567/490.

[7] https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/allergy-library/prevalence-of-allergies-and-asthma.

[8] https://www.healthline.com/health-news/2018-allergy-season-expected-to-be-bad#2. 

[9] https://www.news-medical.net/health/Treatment-and-Prevention-of-Allergies.aspx

X Katharina Hoffmann
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