Children's allergies on the increase

It’s a question I get all the time,” said Dr. Shaz Siddiqi, a board certified allergist at Allergy and Asthma Care Centers. “Allergies are definitely on the rise. Food allergies have doubled in the last 20 years and one out of four people in this country have environmental allergies.”


Children are being diagnosed with potentially life threatening food, drug, and environmental allergies at an alarming rate. But what’s causing this tidal wave of allergies?


“Nobody really knows for sure,” said Dr. Siddiqi. “The biggest predisposing factor is your genes. If allergies run in the family, your children are more likely to develop allergies.”


But if allergies don’t run in your family, there are other theories for why so many children in this country are plagued with allergies.


The Hygiene Hypothesis: Too Clean for Our Own Good?


Dr. Siddiqi points out there are fewer allergies in Asia and Africa where parasites are more common.  Westernized nations like the United States and Europe, in general, have greater levels of allergic disorders, allergies, allergic asthma, and eczema. And, he added, allergies are much more common in suburban areas than rural farming areas of the U.S. It all points to a disturbing and counterintuitive theory: we may be too clean and too safe for our own good. It’s called the Hygiene Hypothesis.


“Kids are exposed at a very early age to parasites and bugs. That shifts your immune system. When you’re young it’s learning a lot of things,” said Dr. Siddiqi. By limiting children’s exposure to germs, dirt, and infections with cleaner lifestyles, vaccines, and antibiotics, their developing immune systems have little to fight off. The result: the immune system actually develops something to fight – allergies.


“Your immune system is either geared toward making allergies or fighting infections,” said Dr. Siddiqi. “If it’s too busy doing one thing, it’s not doing the other. If it’s too busy fighting off infections, it’s not as geared toward developing allergies.”


Other Allergy “Epidemic” Factors


But the Hygiene Hypothesis may only be a part of the answer. Adding to the epidemic-like status of allergies are the converging trends of both higher awareness and self-misdiagnosis.


“Some of it is that we’re looking for allergies more. We have better techniques to test for and diagnose allergies,” said Dr. Siddiqi. “And there’s a lot more awareness out there. People who once thought they were just getting sinus infections are coming in for evaluations.”


But some are inadvertently fueling an allergy myth by assuming their symptoms equal allergies. “A lot of people label themselves as allergic to things, but they’re really not. Penicillin is a big one. Only 3% of people who think they are allergic to penicillin actually are allergic,” said Dr. Siddiqi, adding that without proper testing at an allergy treatment center, patients can miss the mark. “It may not be true allergies. A lot of people confuse food allergies with food intolerance.”


Can You Prevent Allergies? Some Helpful Tips


Can you prevent allergies? Not exactly, but you can take action:


  1. Prevent Exposure – “There’s nothing you can do to prevent an allergy, but you can prevent exposure which can be helpful in preventing development of the allergy,” said Dr. Siddiqi, suggesting that delayed introduction to shellfish, nuts and whole eggs can be helpful if there is a family history of allergies.


  1. Get A Little Dirty – Heed the Hygiene Hypothesis and don’t overprotect children from germs. “Exposure to common childhood infections may build immunity and actually plays a role in protecting [children] from allergies in the long run,” said Dr. Siddiqi, but warns, “It doesn’t mean get your child in an unhygienic environment.”


  1. Follow the Research – Increasing research into the causes and treatments of allergies may give parents easy and practical ways to disarm the onslaught of allergies. “Some studies have shown that probiotics can prevent the onset of allergies,” said Dr. Siddiqi. “Probiotics can be helpful for kids with eczema. It’s not proven, but there is ongoing research.”


  1. Get Tested – Successfully managing allergies starts with proper diagnosis. “We recommend that people who have symptoms, like constant congestion, colds, recurrent sinus infections or ear infections, and bronchitis or asthma get screened at an allergy office,” said Dr. Siddiqi. “Many times those [symptoms] have allergic triggers.”


Dr. Siddiqi is Board Certified by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology. Although he enjoys caring for patients of all ages, he has retained his board certification in general pediatrics in order to provide a high level of care for treating allergies and asthma specifically in children. He also has extensive training in rheumatology and brings a unique understanding of autoimmune disorders in patients with allergies. 

This article appeared on Allergy and Asthma Care website  18 th June 2012 

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