Is Everyone Allergic to Something?

The other day at swim team practice, the other moms and myself were talking about the end of school. One mom was trying to remind herself to go by the school to pick up her Epipen, she hadn’t done it yet. It was for her son who is allergic to peanuts. The other mom said she did pick hers up during the last week and she mentioned how the school nurse kept asking are you sure you want it now. She wasn’t worried as it’s a shrimp allergy that her son has.

I had to laugh and interject that I, too, picked up my daughter’s Epipen the second to last day of school and was asked the same questions form the nurse. She doesn’t like the allergic children to be without their medication, can you blame her?

The next woman to come over was looking for some bottled water so she could take, you guessed it, her allergy medicine. Claritin, I think, for seasonal allergies. We were starting to chuckle that this must be allergy day.

Yet another mom comes in with her child. Her first comment to us is that she was up all night due to her…allergies. OMG, another one! We all laughed and the poor woman thought we were laughing at her until we explained and of course, asked (jokingly) if she needed an Epipen. The mom whose pen was still at the school felt better since she knew we all had Epipens with us in case she needed it! We also agreed that if anyone’s child was in need of an Epipen, we would be happy to share ours. Who wouldn’t we wondered? Would our school nurse?

The mom with the shrimp allergy child said she was allergic to corn and once had a reaction in a restaurant without her Epipen. I think she said someone used another one on her, and yes, she was very thankful for that.

Here’s the kicker – you may think I’m making all of this but I assure you I’m not. We were taking a friend home that day as her mom had to go somewhere. Her mom dropped her off to swim practice and gave me her bag. “Here’s her Epipen,” she said. “Just in case, though she’s never needed it. She’s allergic to bees.” You can imagine the reaction she got from us!

In fact these were all the moms in our little group, except one who all either had Epipens for their children or allerg medicine for themselves. We had a good laugh, but it does make me wonder…why so many Epipens and allergies?

Cause of allergies

I came across a recent article the other day about the causes of food allergies. Why are they so prevalent now? Why are they so much more frequent than what they used to be?

I know that one theory is that our Western diet is so different than a natural diet that our children develop allergies because they do not have the good bacterias that are needed. Here is what I read in an article in cnn.com:

One theory is that the Western diet has made people more susceptible to developing allergies and other illnesses.
A study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences compared the gut bacteria from 15 children in Florence, Italy, with gut bacteria in 14 children in a rural African village in Burkina Faso. They found that the variety of flora in these two groups was substantially different.
The children in the African village live in a community that produces its own food. The study authors say this is closer to how humans ate 10,000 years ago. Their diet is mostly vegetarian. By contrast, the local diet of European children contains more sugar, animal fat and calorie-dense foods. The study authors posit that these factors result in less biodiversity in the organisms found inside the gut of European children.
The decrease in richness of gut bacteria in Westerners may have something to do with the rise in allergies in industrialized countries, said Dr. Paolo Lionetti of the department of pediatrics at Meyer Children Hospital at the University of Florence. Sanitation measures and vaccines in the West may have controlled infectious disease, but they decreased exposure to a variety of bacteria may have opened the door to these other ailments.

But when I read this, I think (as I bet so many other moms do) that that wasn’t me when my daughter was young. I made her baby food from scratch, she didn’t eat sweets or any processed food until she was a year or two old, and even than very minimally. I didn’t add salt or butter to her veggies and to this day she likes them plain. We eat very low fat except for the foods high in good fat.

However, the second part of the aforementioned article does ring a bit of a bell…”the hygiene theory.” Though I can’t say my house is spotless, I am a big hand washer and did carry around the personal high chair and disposable place mats to restaurants. I’d rather her sit in my lap than in a restaurant high chair. She was a very healthy infant and toddler and didn’t even really get sick until preschool. Maybe she should have had a few more germs…

The next theory is that children should be exposed to high allergen foods at an earlier age, and it is our lack of exposure that plays a part in high allergy numbers. Some doctors are advising don’t wait on things like nuts and shellfish, but you can be sure I waited. Who knows, maybe babies should eat shrimp and peanut butter and we’d have a lot less allergies.

Many theories, but no solid conclusions 

“We see allergic tendencies much more common in children than adults, and nobody really knows exactly why that is. The reality is, we can’t quite understand the aging process of the immune system, but it seems to change.” (Mark Millard)

This quote appeared the other day on Beyond Allergy as the “quote of the day”, and I just really love it for a couple of reasons. First, it is so true. Secondly, it shows the mystery that allergies still hold. There is so much we know about allergies, but still so much that is unexplained, unpredictable.

Why do children have so many more allergies than adults? Why do they have so many allergies now than 20, 40 years ago? Is it really that children have more allergies than adults, or that each generation has more allergies? You hear all kinds of reasons for this, from the over cleanliness we impose on our children to if we have animals in the house to what we eat as pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, even breastfeeding itself.

And why do some people grow out of them and some don’t? I know of plenty of adults who have allergies that have kicked in as adults. My one friend can’t eat any foods with pits (avocados, peaches, plums) without her mouth itching and lips swelling, though she enjoyed these foods well into her twenties. I remember getting rashes from my jewelry while I was pregnant. Since then, I can’t wear gold on my ring finger or I have a perfect red rash around my finger. I thought it was just a pregnancy thing, but it has never gone, but just on that one finger. Someone explain that one to me!

What about my husband’s odd allergic reaction? When he was a kid he had certain allergies that caused certain reactions that have changed over the years to manifest in different ways. He still has never figured out some of the things he is allergic to, yet can instinctively feel a reaction coming on.

We know lots of families whose babies have grown out of their food allergies as they grew out of babyhood, but still some hold onto them. Are they going to be more susceptible to gaining some new allergy as they reach adulthood? Do they need to be more wary throughout their lives?

Allergies seem to be a mystery. If you even know what it is you are allergic to, you still can’t be sure of the reaction you may have. Maybe it will never happen again, maybe it will, maybe it will be something different. That is one reason I continue to get my daughter’s Epipen prescription refilled each year, even though she completed successful NAET. You just never know!

Allergies can be caused by having been exposed to too many environmental toxins, natural toxins or irritants. When the body is behaving normally these toxins or irritants will cause fairly small localized reactions while the body fights off the invader. In the case of allergies, for what ever reason the body misreads the problems or overreacts to them creating inflammation and an increased response.

The study of inflammatory diseases is still fairly new. It is generally accepted that certain types of pain are caused by inflammation but what causes the inflammation itself? Some physicians are now recognizing the possibility of heart disease as caused by inflammation of the heart and surrounding tissue, but again, what causes the inflammation? It appears that if your kidneys and your liver are in any way impaired then your body is unable to get rid of toxins which cause inflammation. The particle of an allergen which causes the allergic response is the protein.

Whether it is an allergy to pollen and airborne toxins or a response to topical allergies or even a response to food allergies it is an allergy created by an inappropriate response to an allergen. It is also fairly accepted that there is a genetic component to allergies as well. If either or both of your parents have allergies then you have higher odds of getting them yourself. In addition, according to some specialists your allergies change every seven years. So if you are highly allergic to something now, your body could change and in seven years you will be allergic to something different. This is important especially if you have severe allergies it is important to be careful and keep track of changes.

People with certain allergies have a tendency to be allergic to related allergens. Finding out what you are allergic to can lead you to other discoveries as well. People with pollen allergies are more likely to be susceptible to other airborne allergens. Those with allergies to certain foods will be more likely to have other food allergies.

Although allergies have been around for a long time it is still a relatively new area of medicine especially since we are gaining greater understanding of the interconnectedness of bodily systems. The connection between allergies and inflammation is helping researchers come closer to solving another mystery regarding the inner workings of the human body.

Common allergy causes

In reality almost anything can be an allergen and can cause allergies in susceptible people; however, there are some irritants that cause problems in large numbers of sufferers. The list of common allergies is really quite long but it can be broken down a bit into classifications. We might break these down into; inhaled allergens, topical allergens and digested or eaten allergens. In addition, regular exposure to an allergen can make a person more sensitive to other allergens really confusing the matter.

Inhaled allergens are those things that we breathe in and irritate the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, throat, mouth and lungs. This list includes, but is not limited to: pollens, molds, smoke, smog, dust, dust mites, animal dander, airborne chemicals perfumes and other fragrances. Most of these allergens will cause symptoms in the respiratory system. If you suffer from symptoms such as runny nose, watery eyes, coughing, sneezing, breathing difficulties or asthma you may be allergic to a variety of airborne allergens.

If you can’t touch certain items without breaking out in a rash or hives you might have topical allergies. These are irritants which cause skin related reactions. They might include soaps, animals, plants, hair care products including hair dye, skin care products, household cleaning products, jewelry, and nail care products. Do you get a rash from your favorite bracelet? Do you find yourself itching and scratching after doing laundry? Does petting the cat make you break out? These are generally caused by topical allergens. The most common metal allergy is to nickel. Nickel is in most all metal combinations including 24 carat gold. If you are allergic to nickel all of your jewelry will cause you problems.

Dietary allergens can masquerade as all sorts of problems and can create a lot misdiagnosis. Some dietary allergies will show up as respiratory symptoms. Many people who are allergic to milk will have coughs, sneezes and asthma from exposure to milk and milk products. IBS or irritable bowel syndrome can be an allergy to wheat or corn or other foods. Allergies to fruit can cause skin rashes and hives and allergies to shellfish or nuts especially peanuts can cause breathing problems, behavior problems and even anaphylaxis. In addition people with dietary allergies may not realize that one food is related to another such as avocados and bananas, or peanuts and peas. Another area is the sulfur content of many berries and fruits; if you are allergic to sulfur then you need to watch out for radishes, strawberries and eggs.

As you can see allergies can cause a multitude of symptoms and different allergens can create problems in a variety of areas in the body. If you are prone to allergies it is good to know what you are allergic to, what items are related to those allergens and how your body responds to them. A good way to get a handle on food allergies is to keep a food chart complete with mood and symptoms notes.

Odd Allergies

While driving around the other day sipping my latte, I wondered about all the odd allergies that people may have. By the way, my latte was decaf, because I can’t really do caffeine. It makes me feel very odd, shaky, anxious, even hungry and sleepy. Is this an allergy? A sensitivity? How many other people have unexplainable “weird” feelings after ingesting certain things or being in certain places?

I do think others share my coffee reaction, but because it doesn’t have the traditional allergic symptoms, we don’t really worry with it, just sort of tone down our coffee intake. I know some can be hypersensitive to caffeine; they are more affected by it in smaller doses. So is that an allergic reaction or again, just sensitivity, or neither?

I had a friend who could not drink wine and eat scallops in the same meal. She could do either one separately and be fine, but combine the two and she had a reaction. She would feel light headed and faint, though never experienced any swelling, hives, itchiness or anaphylaxis. Needless to say, she doesn’t drink wine when ordering scallops after two or three of these episodes, but nothing was ever diagnosed professionally.

Though there are the “major” allergens we all know (soy, wheat, nuts, peanuts, eggs, etc.) there are a lot of other things out there that make a lot of us sick. I have heard of lettuce allergies, avocado allergies, fava bean allergies. Basically people with these allergies just avoid like any other allergy, but it’s harder because the awareness is not there. People are starting to get the dangers of a peanut allergy, but if you say you are allergic to lettuce, the impact isn’t there.

I have heard stories of people developing headaches on cloudy days; is this allergy to weather? What about the “achoo syndrome,” the instance of sneezing when you walk out of a building into the sun? Is it an allergy or just a quirky medical condition? How about if you sometimes have a reaction, is that an allergy?

I think all of us probably have something that doesn’t agree with us and usually that’s termed a sensitivity. Many experts don’t like to differentiate between a sensitivity and an allergy because of the inconsistencies of allergy symptoms. So what should we call it? Should we be cautious and frighten people and say we have an allergy, or be less conservative and make light of what could possibly be a serious condition?

If you look on Google for “weird allergies” you’ll come upon an article like this: 31 Everyday Things You Didn’t Know You Could Be Allergic To, and many similar.

The bottom line, know your own self, if something feels weird for you, you probably want to stay away, even if it isn’t one of the “Big 8.” For all we are learning of allergies and the awareness being spread, obviously there is still a lot out there we don’t know!

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