What is an allergy?
An allergy occurs when the body reacts to harmless substances including pollen and dander. Histamine is released to get rid of these things and, whilst this chemical is normally quite useful, if levels aren’t balanced, then a wide range of symptoms can develop. As the chemical is so widely distributed throughout the body, symptoms can crop up all over the place, including on the skin and in the nasal passages and throat.
1 - Germ-free environments
Some experts believe that an increasing number of children develop allergies because, as youngsters, they are not exposed to infections that would strengthen the immune system and enable them to build up some resistance – in other words, we are too clean!1 This is partly down to rising standards of cleanliness and the introduction of many anti-bacterial skin care products.
If the immune system is poorly developed, it may not be able to launch an adequate defence against pathogens and allergens.
This theory was first introduced in the late 1980s when research showed that there were fewer instances of hayfever amongst children living in large households. Since then, more research has been conducted on the issue, with similar findings.
One particular study conducted in 2013 concluded that children were exposed to more germs when they lived with older siblings and pets. The resutls suggest that this helped to build up their immune system, meaning there was less chance the child would react to harmless substances.2
2 - Absence of breastfeeding
A Swiss study published in the British Medical Journal investigated the effects of breastfeeding on allergic disease in infants of up to 2 years of age.3
4,089 Swedish infants were involved in the study, some of whom were exclusively breastfed over the course of 4 months, whilst others were only partially breastfed.
The results showed that, by the age of 2, infants who were exclusively breast fed experienced less asthma, less atopic dermatitis and less suspected allergic rhinitis. Being exclusively breastfed also prevented children from developing multiple allergic conditions during the first two years of life.
3 - Gut environment
There is a close link between digestion and the immune system, the latter of which is responsible for triggering an abnormal response to allergens. This connection means that, if a digestive problem such as leaky gut or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth develops (gut dysbiosis), it becomes more likely that allergy symptoms will follow.
Leaky gut, for example, causes the structure of the gut wall to loosen and, as a result, large food particles that wouldn’t normally be able to pass, now slip through partially digested. Over time, this can contribute to complaints such as constipation and inflammation, though, on top of this, it can also overwhelm the immune system, thus making it more likely to react to harmless substances like pollen.
4 – C-section births
According to research conducted by the Henry Ford Hospital, babies delivered by C-section could be as much as 5 times more likely to develop allergies by the age of 2 than those born naturally.4
The researchers suggested that babies were exposed to bacteria in the birth canal and this may, in turn, help to strengthen the immune system and see off potential allergens.
Although more research may be needed on the topic and, indeed, a significant number of babies delivered by C-section will not develop allergies, it is still an indication of what could contribute to allergies.
5 - Environmental pollution
Although the research is on-going, rising levels of pollution in towns and cities may also be to blame for an increase in allergy cases.5 This may be to do with the fact that pollution mixes with allergens like pollen to make it thicker, heavier and stickier. This means that it clings more easily to areas like the nose and throat so, even if the pollen levels are low, or you’ve never experienced hayfever before, symptoms may still develop.
For further information on the impact of pollution on allergy symptoms, have a read of my blog on the topic.
Tips for allergy sufferers
- Reduce your exposure to allergens - by closing the windows during times when pollen counts are high and keep the bedroom free of pets.
- Try gut-healing supplements like probiotics – these help to strengthen the gut wall so that pathogens can’t get through and overwhelm the immune system.
- Address any gut-related issues – look at how you eat, what you eat and what you drink to help get digestive problems under control. You can take a look at our Digestion hub for more detailed advice about this.
- Use natural anti histamines – Quercetin (found in leafy vegetables, broccoli and more) and vitamin C can help to keep the likes of a blocked nose and itchy skin at bay.
- Opt for a natural remedy – Pollinosan is a homeopathic remedy licensed for the treatment of hayfever symptoms.