Allergic to allergies

by Geraldine Rullan-Borromeo
(Manila City, Philippines)

Published in the Daily Tribune Life
July 30, 2011

Anyone beset with food allergies at an early age, who beget children with asthma, allergic rhinitis, ear allergies and the like tell the same story of how each generation suffers a lifetime of allergy symptoms -— sneezing, ear irritations, rashes, swelling of body parts, and other allergic reaction horror incidences, some of them fatal.

Even with the advances in medicine, there is still no universally accepted cure for allergies. The genetic link between allergies and its inter-generational occurrence tells us that one might actually pass it on to one’s kids via heredity.

According to recent studies, the more family members with an allergy, the worse is the risk for their kids as hereditary factors increase an infant’s risk of getting food allergies. In addition to the genetic factor, the parents’ lifestyle choices have also increased the risk of contracting allergies for children.

In a seminar held in Thailand entitled “Power to Protect — Clinically Proven Long-Term Allergy Prevention,” led by Dr. Ralf Heine, senior allergologist at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, it was noted that there is an exponential increase of allergic disorders in the Asia-Pacific region. The greatest increase of allergic disorders “occurred in food allergy and atopic dermatitis in infants and young children.”

How does an allergic reaction take place? A class of anti-bodies react when a person is exposed to an allergen and the body mistakenly thinks it is faced with an intruder it should fight off, causing the antibodies to produce a varied assortment of symptoms. These allergies are of serious consequence and once a person develops a particular allergy, it becomes a lifetime condition that progresses from one body part to another. It may increase or decrease in intensity, but will remain difficult to manage unless
preventive measures are taken early on.

Children with allergies are left out from everyday activities that most kids enjoy. In school, asthma attacks may prevent a child from entering any sports-related activities. Allergies also affect a child’s sleeping pattern. Children who have their symptoms attack during the night tend to lose sleep, hence the low energy level to participate in activities the following morning.

Even common allergies in the form of rashes, asthma, or flaking of the scalp can have adverse effects on the physiological social and emotional well-being of a person. A child, who has a severe case of rashes, tends to be shy as he grows and loses confidence because of the red marks on his skin. During and after an attack, a child will tend to decrease his productivity in school as compared to his performance on days with no allergy attacks.

The US National Institute of Health in its National Library, PubMed.gov published that while “asthma and allergic diseases are examples of disorders having an unmistakable genetic predisposition, xxx these disorders require the presence of appropriate environmental triggers for their expression.”

Thus, food intake and environmental triggers are matters that we cannot take out of the allergy equation in a person with a genetic disposition to allergies. In the past decade, the number of Filipino children with food allergies has grown to as much as 30 percent. Thus, the growing incidence of allergies equates with a higher intake of allergy medicines.

In celebration of World Allergy Day last July 8, Prof. Sibylle Koletzko, head of the Division of Paediactic Gastroentology and Hepatology at Ludgwig Maximilians University Munich, Germany, visited the Philippines to share the results of studies conducted by her university on the importance of allergy screening measures to help reduce or even prevent the risk food allergies in children.

Prof. Koletzko enlightened us that while persons with identified and specific allergies to food cannot risk intake of the food allergens, recent studies by the Ludgwig Maximilians University Munich have shown that a balanced diet and a normal level of hygiene may decrease the risk of exposure to food allergens as opposed to an allergen free diet like a pure organic diet; a no alcohol diet; a no fat diet; a preservative process free diet; among many other health diets touted to rid the body of allergies and other diseases.

Their studies show that even a hyper hygienic practice where hand washing with anti-bacterial soap and a meticulous sanitation of the home, school or office have not shown to be a deterrent to the presence of allergies.

In fact, in a study where children who were raised in highly sanitized environments and where personal hygiene was a key part of everyday life, more allergic reactions were suffered as opposed to children who have less sanitation and who practiced a much lower level of personal hygiene. This vindicates the old wives’ tale that ultra cleanliness is not synonymous with health.

The expectation that a high level of personal and environmental sanitation does not diminish but rather increases the incidence of allergies is based on the body’s actually ability to strengthen its immune system when it is exposed early on in life to a variety of bacteria.

Even the mode of delivery that a child is born and the type of food it is fed can influence the ability of the newborn to develop the immune system. Normal delivery allows the baby to swallow the liquid in its mother’s gut system which is the natural course of delivery, thus, exposing the baby to a variety of bacterial flora at the onset of life outside the womb, which is a very sterile environment.

Children breastfed for the first six months of life then fed solid food also display a stronger immune system than those whose gut were exposed to formula milk and other baby foods within the same first six months. Another example is that among children, cow’s milk allergy counts as one of the most prevalent conditions, peaking between zero to six months of age, according to Dr. Koletzko.

“In face of the rising incidence of allergic diseases over the last decades, preventive measures are of increasing importance,” notes Dr. Koletzko. “Since it has been recognized that early contact to food allergens plays a major role in the development of both tolerance and sensitization to food antigens, prompt intervention strategies are vital to allergy prevention.”

The other recommendation of Prof. Koletzko is that children and adults without specific allergic reactions to food eat a balanced variety of foods and practice a regular hygiene regimen, as studies show that an extreme exclusion of food groups in a diet and ultra cleanliness has not shown to decrease the incidence of allergies.

A rational use of anti-allergy medication was also discussed by Prof. Koletzko after some mothers raised their fears about over medicating their children. Her rule of thumb is not to medicate without consulting a doctor before administering any medication to children. The adverse effects of medication are weighed by a doctor against the gravity of an allergic attack.

Following the doctor’s prescription is always advisable in case where an allergic attack is at hand or where maintenance medication has been advised as a medical necessity.

For those who have suffered allergic reactions and have not yet identified the allergens that specifically cause said reactions, an allergy screening may be a life-saving measure for a child or even for an adult. Knowing the risk is half the battle and checking one’s family’s allergy history can not only alleviate the symptoms of allergies, it may just save the life of another child.

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