Causes of Allergies
Rising numbers of people suffering from allergies worldwide
Many people are themselves affected by allergic rhinitis, allergic asthma or a food allergy, or at least know affected people. Allergic diseases are among the most common diseases in the western world today. Up to 20% of the worldwide population suffer from type I allergies, approximately 1,3 billion people. The distribution varies especially in the industrialized countries. More than 50% of the European population has the tendency to develop allergic reactions and there is an increasing trend in patients with allergic rhinitis in recent decades.
Why is the number of people suffering from allergies worldwide increasing?
The reasons leading to the strong increase in allergic diseases are still being researched intensively. In this field of research, revealing results can be expected in the next few years.
Possible answers are:
1. Changed living conditions
Allergic diseases are diseases of the immune system. A special antibody of the immune system, the specific IgE, takes on a key role. Normally IgE plays a role in parasite defense, eg. parasitic worm diseases. Since the improved hygienic conditions today have led to a decrease in parasitic diseases compared to the past, it has been suggested that this part of our immune system is ‘under-challenged’. Furthermore, it has been shown that children whose immune system reacts with certain pathogens – e.g. the causative agent of tuberculosis – had to deal with less common allergies.
2. Changed lifestyles
Among other things, our dietary habits are considered. Foods come to us today from all over the world. Thus, our immune system comes into contact with allergens that were unknown in Germany 50 years ago. Furthermore, the intake of certain fats that we ingest via food seems to play a role in the development of allergies.
Other substances, with which we did not previously come in contact, are increasingly being used in our everyday lives. Just think about new food additives, textile dyes and medicines, to name but a few. The widespread use of latex in the medical field (e.g., in examination gloves) has been accompanied by an increase in latex allergies in medical personnel.
3. Environmental influences
Environmental influences are also likely to play a role in the increase in allergic diseases. Even though the significance of different pollutant levels in the development of allergies has not yet been definitively clarified, it could be proven that, for example, Diesel soot particles can promote the development of allergies.
Do not take allergies lightly
Frequently, the first signs of an allergy are hay fever, which is troublesome, but in pollen allergies it occurs only at the time of pollen flight of the respective plant. The symptoms can only be relieved by taking so-called symptomatic medicines (e.g. antihistamines) without curing the root causes of the allergy. If the underlying cause of the allergic inflammation is not treated causally, the severity of the disease progresses. Within a few years, more allergies or the inflammation attacks the lower airways with the result of an allergic asthma.
An allergy to inhaled allergens always carries the risk of a ‘allergic march’. This means that the symptoms of the upper respiratory organs (nose an eyes) can shift over time to the lower respiratory organs (bronchi of the lungs). The result is allergic bronchial asthma, which occurs in about 40% of untreated pollen allergy sufferers within 8 years! Serious health damage and occupational disability can be the result. Even if the suffering caused by hay fever may not initially be substantial, it is still advisable to consult a doctor with experience in the diagnosis and treatment of allergic diseases.
Visit the allergist in time
Although symptomatic drugs such as antihistamines can relieve the allergic symptoms in the short term, they do not fight the cause of the allergy. With the allergy vaccine (often called allergen immunotherapy or hyposensitization) the allergist has a treatment option, with an alternative approach, for example against pollen and mite allergens. The success of such a treatment requires an accurate diagnosis, in which the triggering allergens are clearly identified by various test methods.
Since this diagnostic often resembles a detective work and requires a lot of experience, it should be in specialists care. Of course, the most drastic therapy is the avoidance of allergy-causing substances. Where this is hardly possible, e.g. in the case of pollen allergies, allergy immunotherapy can help to reduce allergic symptoms effectively and long lasting and prevent the onset of allergic asthma. In patients who are allergic to insect venoms (such as bee or wasp), this type of treatment may even be life-saving. Scientific studies have also shown that in patients who have successfully undergone allergen immunotherapy, new sensitizations are less likely to occur than in allergy sufferers treated with symptomatic drugs alone.