10 allergy myths debunked

Think you might be allergic? We take a look at allergy myths and misconceptions.

08 September 2011
by The Clicks health team

Whether you believe that allergies are all in your head or you're wondering if you might be allergic to milk, you might be surprised to find out the facts.
Here are 10 of the most popular myths surrounding allergies.

1. Children grow out of allergies

According to Dr Adrian Morris of the Cape Town Allergy Clinic, only about 'Fifty percent of children will outgrow their allergies by their teens.' Over time, children typically outgrow allergies to cow's milk, eggs, wheat, and soybean products. However, allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish can often be lifelong. 'One is more likely to develop an allergy to food or inhalants as a child, when your immune system is still immature. Adults, though, will often develop allergies to medication and contact dermatitis,' says Dr Morris.

2. Allergies are not life-threatening

Although it rarely happens, allergies can kill. 'The most severe form of allergy is called anaphylaxis and can result in death (airways close and heart stops) and may occur with bee stings, penicillin and nut allergies,' says Dr Morris.

3. Eating allergenic foods while pregnant can create allergies in your child

The tendency to develop allergies often runs in families, but other factors come into play as well. Sometimes people develop allergies when neither parent has them. 'In fact, there seems more evidence that trying to avoid allergenic foods in pregnancy may actually increase allergy risk,' adds Dr Morris.

'For example, communities that eat a lot of peanuts in pregnancy don't seem to have peanut-allergic children.'

4. It's all in your mind

Contrary to many people's beliefs, allergies cannot be psychosomatic, as an allergy is a very real immune reaction, says Dr Morris. 'It is possible, however, that some people may be very anxious and develop "allergy-like" symptoms, for example when they get in a panic (perhaps shortness of breath, sweating, skin flushing and vomiting with diarrhoea).'

5. Frequent exposure to pollen can help you build up immunity to it

Regularly scheduled, controlled and repeated exposure to small amounts of an allergen (as in the case of immunotherapy, see box) can lead to immunity in a few cases, but infrequent and erratic exposure does not lead to immunity - in fact, it is more likely to make matters worse.

6. Iodine in shellfish causes allergies

Some people who are allergic to seafood avoid certain skin medications and diagnostic medical tests that use iodine because they fear an allergic reaction. But there is no connection between allergies to fish and shellfish and allergies to iodine. Allergies to fish and shellfish are caused by the protein in them, not the iodine.

7. Cow's milk is to blame for the recent rise in allergies

'Cow's milk has been around for centuries and cow milk allergy is not on the increase. Living in very clean environments and not being exposed to dirt and bugs seems to be the cause of the allergy epidemic we see in the western world. This is called the Hygiene Hypothesis,' says Dr Morris.

While milk allergy is most common among infants and is usually outgrown in adulthood, when adults react adversely to milk - such as cramps, gas, and diarrhoea - symptoms are often mistaken for an allergic reaction. This is actually a condition known as lactose intolerance - an inherited trait caused by the body's lack of an enzyme, lactase, needed to break down lactose, the sugar in milk and milk products.

8. Organic foods are not allergenic

'Organic foods are just as likely to cause allergies and off er no protection from allergy,' warns Dr Morris. In fact, some of the most allergenic foods are 'natural', unprocessed foods, such as cow's milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soybeans, fish and shellfish.

9. Allergy 'shots' don't work

'Conventional allergen desensitisation immunotherapy treatments by injection or by using the oral route are very effective,' says Dr Morris, 'but these are only available for grass pollen, dust mite and bee sting allergies so far.'

10. People who are allergic to pets are allergic to their fur

The real culprit is a protein produced by glands in the animal's skin or in their saliva. Cats often cause more allergy problems than dogs simply because they tend to lick their fur a lot, spreading the protein onto their coats.

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