Allergies: Can Too Much Hygiene Actually Harm Us?

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It’s that time of the year again. You step out of the house and your eyes itch, your nose starts running and your head feels like an empty balloon. Yes, it’s allergy season. Even the resilient ones, give them enough time and eventually they will develop some form of allergic reaction.

But what are allergies and why do so many people suffer from them?

Allergies are a glitch in our immune system. The immune system is built to recognize and destroy pathogens — potential threats like viruses and harmful bacteria. Unlike pathogens, allergens are substances that, despite being harmless to the body, still trigger a response from the immune system. As soon as the allergen is detected, the immune system releases a class of antibodies called IgE. These antibodies signal the cells to release histamine, a neurotransmitter that triggers all the pesky symptoms typical of an allergic reaction: wheezing, watery eyes, running nose, coughing, and all the like.

Spring is a particularly dreaded time of the year for allergy sufferers because of all the pollen released in the air. Global warming has impacted the duration and spread of pollen allergies: shorter winters and warmer temperatures translate into longer pollen seasons, which in turn increase the duration and severity of symptoms for allergy sufferers. In addition, they also increase the exposure and possible sensitization of people who don’t suffer from allergies … yet [1].

Are allergies on the rise?

In his 2015 review [2], Thomas Platts-Mills, of the University of Virginia School of Medicine, looks at the prevalence over the past five decades of asthma, hay fever, and peanut allergy, and reports a progressive increase in pediatric asthma, as well as a “dramatic” increase in food allergies. Allergies are more prevalent in developed countries, and particularly in urban —> Read More

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