The Allergy Pandemic


Making sense of the rise in allergies and what we might do about it 

We are in the throes of a pandemic. At a bewildering rate, people in the developed world are succumbing to a raft of allergies. Hay fever is on the rise amongst all sectors of the population, whilst our children, in particular, are suffering from a rise in skin and food allergies. For those of us who live in the western world, 50% of the population is now estimated to be sensitive to at least one allergy-inducing substance.

These are worrying statistics. Over the course of this article, we’ll try to make sense of them and offer some advice.

What is an allergy, exactly?

We’re said to have an allergy when our body reacts abnormally to a substance that is usually harmless (think pollen, animal fur, milk, nuts, eggs etc.), but which impacts negatively on our immune system when we touch, inhale, or ingest it. 

Allergies can affect different parts of our body, especially the skin, the respiratory system, the gastrointestinal system, and the cardiovascular system. Symptoms can include responses as diverse as sneezing, cramps, vomiting, diarrhoea, difficulty breathing, rashes, and swelling.

There are, then, many different types of allergies, each of them with their own set of symptoms. But what is causing their precipitous rise?

Why has there been an explosion of allergies, particularly in the West?

On this question, the jury remains, unfortunately, out. In the face of uncertainty, several different ideas have been forwarded by experts to explain the growth in allergies, particularly amongst children. 

To date, the theory that’s gained the greatest currency is ‘the hygiene hypothesis’, which lays the blame at the door of excessive cleanliness. According to this theory, our overriding desire for cleanliness is interrupting the normal development of the immune system, and this change has led to an increase in allergies.

In short, our “developed” lifestyles have eliminated the natural variation in the types and quantity of germs our immune system requires, if it is to develop the robustness needed to prevent allergies from taking hold. As support for this theory, experts point to the fact that allergies are rising most rapidly in more technologically advanced countries. In developing countries, where children are exposed more often to germs, the incidence of allergies is much lower.

But this is just one amongst a number many theories. Other ideas put forward to explain the allergy pandemic include:

  • our changing diet, 
  • climate change, 
  • pollution, 
  • genetically modified foods, 
  • declining biodiversity, 
  • synthetic chemicals in personal care products, and 
  • overly sensitive parents, who ascribe allergies to their children whenever they get sick. 

Another, more recent theory, points to the overuse of antibacterial products (like antibiotics) as a key reason for the outbreak of the pandemic.

Whatever the reason, the fact that we’re experiencing a rise in the incidence of allergies is inescapable. And until researchers come up with a definitive answer (or answers) as to the root causes of this phenomenon, it falls upon us to be aware of it and to respond to it on a case-by-case basis.

Common allergies, and how to care for them

Let’s look at three of the most common types of allergies – hay fever, food allergies, and eczema – and explore what can be done.

  • Hay Fever
  • Hay fever is a common problem, caused by an allergenic reaction to airborne pollen. It can be a real irritant when all you want to do is enjoy the sun and those long, dreamy summer days. Conventional remedies include nasal sprays, decongestants, and eye drops, whilst allergy shots are sometimes prescribed by doctors when symptoms become severe.

    For those looking for a more natural solution to combat hay fever, the following remedies are also available, helping to minimize both the incidence and severity of the allergy:

    • Drink green tea, which is a powerful antioxidant.
    • Take garlic as a supplement. Garlic contains the compound quercetin, a natural antihistamine that can help reduce the severity of the allergy.
    • Drink lots of water (as many as eight glasses a day), as this will help to break down any mucus and relieve symptoms.
    • Be sure to wash clothes that have been worn to the beach, or out in the garden where they can collect pollen and dust.
  • Food Allergies
  • Food allergies are increasingly problematic, especially where our children are concerned. Although more is becoming known about food allergies every day, there is still no cure, and there are hundreds of deaths annually across the western world, resulting from anaphylactic reactions to foods. 

    Although the precipitous rise in peanut allergies is well known (it’s estimated 2.5% of all US children are allergic to nuts), it’s far from the only food causing unwanted, and sometimes alarming, allergic reactions. Increasingly, people are also suffering reactions to foods as diverse as shellfish, milk, eggs, corn, soy, and even meat.

    For many people, especially parents, navigating this minefield has become a difficult task, made all the harder by food labels that are often difficult to read, and which sometimes contain hidden ingredients a child might be allergic to.

    So, what can be done? It’s not enough to hope that our children will simply grow out of their allergy. True, there’s a better than even chance a child will grow out of an allergy to eggs but the odds are much lower if their allergy is to fish or nuts. Sadly, the more serious the allergy, the less likely someone is to outgrow it.

    In the end, the best remedy for food allergies may be prevention. By avoiding high risk foods, it may even be possible to prevent food allergies from ever developing.

    Thus, if there exists a history of allergies in your family, it might be wise to consider the following steps for your children, including babies:

    • If possible, breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of your baby’s life (that means no formula supplements or solid foods) and then continue to breastfeed until your child is at least 12 months old.
    • Avoid eating peanuts and tree nuts while breastfeeding. You may also want to consider avoiding eggs, cow’s milk, and fish.
    • If you do want to supplement your breastfeeding with formula, use a hypoallergenic formula.
    • When your baby starts eating solids, introduce foods one at a time and watch them after they eat. Food allergy reactions usually appear within minutes but can sometimes take several hours to show up. If you suspect an allergy, keep a diary of everything your child eats and any symptoms.
    • As your child gets older, encourage them to eat a wide variety of wholefoods and rotate food choices. It also helps to drink and exercise regularly, as well as minimize intake of refined sugar.
    • If your child is diagnosed with an allergy, you can help address it by paying close attention to food packaging. If a full ingredient list isn’t provided on a product’s label, then call the manufacturer or simply don’t purchase it.
    • Make sure other parents, teachers, and caregivers know what to do in case of a reaction.
  • Eczema
  • Worldwide, eczema is now three times more prevalent than asthma, and it continues to manifest in more and more children. A sometimes debilitating skin condition, both physically and psychologically, eczema can be treated and/or managed, helping mitigate both its incidence and its severity.

    Pharmaceutical drugs are widely available to help combat eczema, but you may want to treat them with caution, or – at the very least – do your homework before using them. That’s because most eczema drugs are designed to minimize symptoms rather than treat the cause of the condition. They can also damage the skin in the longer term (a result of their thinning action on the skin), whilst some drugs are also steroid based, which can disrupt normal hormonal functioning.

    If you’re interested in treating eczema naturally, as opposed to managing it with drugs, then your journey needs to begin with finding its cause. A good starting point here is to look at dietary and environmental intolerances. For example, milk and wheat are common culprits when it comes to the condition. 

    In addition, the following steps might help:

    • Increase your consumption of vitamin C, as well as foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (e.g. cold-water fish, flax seeds, and walnuts).
    • Do your research and find a high-quality multi-vitamin, rich in antioxidant vitamins A and E.
    • Increase your intake of quercetin, which is found in garlic, as well as in cherries, onions, and broccoli.
    • Use a natural topical application. We highly recommend The Organic Skin Co.’s Task Force Nine and Soothe Operator in this regard. Both products are rich in antioxidants, including CO2 extracts of calendula and turmeric, which have proven benefits when it comes to calming the skin and helping reduce the severity of outbreaks.
    • Minimize flare-ups by avoiding exposure to environmental triggers where you can. 

    Finally, as a general approach to warding off all allergies, probiotics are recommended. Our immune system is predominantly located in the gut and probiotics can help keep this system strong and vital. For this reason, a high-quality probiotic supplement can be an important tool in keeping you and your family allergy free.

    Allergies are an ever-growing, ever-present problem in our society. It is wise to plan for them and – because prevention is always the best cure - adopt best practices to help minimize the chances of them ever flaring up.

    This blog post was written for educational purposes only. It is not designed to diagnose, treat or cure. For individual health concerns, The Organic Skin Co. recommends that you consult with a relevant health professional.